News and Facts about Cuba

Cuba – Downhill in 2015

Cuba: Downhill in 2015 / Miriam Leiva
Posted on December 31, 2015

Cubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 29 December 2015 — Cubans greeted 2015
with joy and great expectations, but they are saying goodbye to it sadly
and without hope.

Cuban officials will not be able to blame the United States government
for the current crisis and the coming catastrophe that popular wisdom
senses is coming. Throughout the whole year many people of all ages were
heard to say, “Don’t tell me that the fault lies with the Americans,” as
well as, “the [Cuban] government does not create openings for Obama’s
measures to benefit us.”

Two news items have depressed the people even more: the Venezuelan
election results, and the announced supposed growth of 4% in Cuba’s GDP.
The first is because Cubans sense the imminent repeat of the blackouts
and shortages of the 1990s,* and the second because daily life
conditions put the lie to this statistic. The majority of the population
has shown indifference toward Chavismo, but they fear that without
’s economic support, calamities will befall Cuba. Meanwhile,
the Cuban government has been seen to be squandering the foreign
interest that had gained momentum from the new possibilities
arising out of the Cuba/US thaw.

Only the top brass within their own environment, and a small number of
successful Cubans, were able to prepare holiday feasts with the
traditional foods, drinks and ornaments of the season, throwing
perhaps-lavish parties with gifts from Santa Claus or the Three Wise Men.

A 96-year-old woman, still a militant member of the Cuban Communist
Party, recounted that she receives a monthly pension of 270 Cuban pesos
(CUPs)–the equivalent of about US$10. Out of this she pays 57 CUPs
towards the financing of her refrigerator, which the government sold to
her on credit years ago. A professor for decades and a participant in
all the projects of the Revolution, this lady was convinced that Cuba
would achieve prosperity. Now she has no money to buy the needed
ingredients for a holiday dinner, and even less for a New Year’s
celebration. Sometimes her relatives abroad send her remittances, and
her grandchildren help her out so that she can eat.

The Catholic churches were filled for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
After a 40-year ban on religion, open evangelization began, thanks to
the visits by the three Popes (John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis)
and the rapprochement of Fidel and Raúl Castro, garnering international
recognition and support for restoring the ethical and moral values
destroyed by them. During the homily at the church I attended, the
priest explained the significance of the date and mentioned the great
adversities that Cubans endure daily, in an effort to fill the
congregants with the strength to face them.

In 2015, the population suffered increased prices for agricultural
products, brought about by continued low productivity. The government
announced that pork, a traditional part of the Christmas Eve meal, would
be sold at low prices. Even so, quantity and quality were scarce, which
drove the price up to 50 CUPs (about $US 2.00) per pound on the free
market, while the average monthly salary is the equivalent of some $25.00.

The shortages affected even the pricey hard-currency stores. All year
long, essential medications were unavailable, among them drugs for
diabetes, heart problems, and blood pressure, because those are produced
abroad were not imported on time, and nor were the raw materials for
producing them domestically. Aspirin has been rigorously rationed in
Cuba for years. These products were not available, either, in the
hard-currency pharmacies.

Regardless, the government produced its modern version of the Roman
circus, announcing with great fanfare a supposed opening: WiFi. The new
way of deceiving the world and lessening social pressure was to enable
precarious connectivity within 50 zones scattered throughout the
country, where people of all ages, with great emotion, have been able to
see and talk with their relatives and friends in Miami and other points
around the globe. For the first time, crowds were allowed to gather on
the sidewalks, in the parks, and at the fronts of
hotels—well-supervised, of course. In addition, much hard currency was
collected. Labeled a great accomplishment of the Cuban ,
announced that new WiFi zones will be activated in 2016—although private
homes will remain unconnected.

Raúl Castro, likely having been informed of popular
discontent, declared in the Council of Ministers on 18 December that
problems must be addressed, wherever they may be. “We must go where the
problems are, we must talk with the people affected, we cannot leave the
field open to defeatism,” he said, according to media reports.

More than ever, Cubans are watching and progress in the US,
while the Cuban government foments a migration crisis in Central
America, taking advantage of the intention of some US legislators to
modify policies regarding Cuban migration. Meanwhile, exit visas for
Cuban doctors are again restricted, changes are not being implemented
that would stimulate industrial and agricultural productivity; approved
categories of self-employment are not expanded to include creative work
and to compensate it well, it being a source of enrichment for all of
society; we have yet to see the multi-million-dollar foreign investments
that were predicted; the American president’s measures are blocked,
beneficial as they would be for the average Cuban; and repression continues.

At the same time, the government ramped up its “ideological work” and
propaganda to counteract the spontaneous displays of the Stars and
Stripes that can be seen everywhere. Nevertheless, if Barack Obama were
to not modify the existing migration policies, and were he able to
ensure that his measures reached the people, he would be received with a
jubilation never before shown to any visitor to Cuba, and he could
increase the people’s empowerment.

*Translator’s Note: Leiva is referring here to Cuba’s so-called Special
Period in the 1990s, a time of acute hardship in Cuba following the
collapse of the Soviet Union.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Cuba: Downhill in 2015 / Miriam Leiva | Translating Cuba –

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