Three Events that will Shape Cuba’s Future
Cuban reality is in constant flux. As occurs in any process of change, there will be events that make a difference and shape the character and direction of social transformations. In the next twelve months, three major events stand to have a sizable impact on Cuba’s future trajectory. Therefore they deserve our highest attention.
A considerable segment of Cuban society has long demanded a faster pace to the reforms promoted by the Government. As is typical of an increasingly heterogeneous society, the demands have varied. For example, some sectors consider that the reform process in Cuba today is not nor will ever be enough and is worthless because the problem is systemic and requires a total transformation. For another, changes have not been or are not even necessary, and our nation’s efforts should be focused on recovering the “better times” where everything was easier and simpler. There are also those, both inside and outside Cuba, who prefer to stay away from “politics” because they consider that circumstances are unfavorable to express their opinions, or because they see no favorable correlation between the energies invested and its revenue potential. Finally, many who are distant in both space and time from Cuba for migratory reason, still remain anchored to previous realities, which they can better manage and understand, and process new information within those scenarios, intermingling issues from different decades.
Yet, from any of these positions, or others found through a deeper dive into Cuban society, we can see that Cuba is in a process of recognizing new realities and readjusting relationships: society-government, society-emigration, society-private sector, etc. Powered by new technologies, these dynamics are causing a shift in citizen participation across the different issues that affect our daily lives: a new ecosystem where social networks, influencers, opinion articles, academic research, independent media news, official press releases, among other media, coexist. This applies even for those who don’t have access to information in real time, or at all, and who access this ecosystem through alternative or indirect sources, such as el Paquete or la Mochila, work-related internet accounts, or prudent use of mobile data packets. We have gone, in a relatively short period of time, from being a country with an absence of information ── where it could be problematic to hold an opinion, know about something specific, or communicate with others ── to suffer the consequences of information overload or infoxication, as do all post-modern societies.
New events go viral almost every week, (i.e. the expression referring to the importance of “the limes” uttered by the president Diaz-Canel, the video showing Pau Massola at the beach during lockdown; the hospitalization of comedian Juan Carlos “el Gordo” after having been accused of being an anonymous influencer). On the other hand, every month, we also enjoy a variety of exceptional journalistic articles analyzing Cuban reality from diverse perspectives (i.e. Ricardo Torres, Triana Cordoví, and Everleny on the economy; La Jiribilla and Rialta on culture; and Temas, Flacso, and Centro de Convivencia on society). Moreover, we read different points of view on relevant and interesting topics (i.e. Joven Cuba, El Estornudo), investigative journalism (i.e. El Toque, Periodismo de Barrio); and can even often find positive examples of journalistic works in official channels of communication (i.e. Cubadebate, Juventud Rebelde) or on TV (Lázaro Manuel Alonso, Thalía González, Abdiel Bermúdez),. Besides, it now common to be subjected to a bombardment of information from all sources, updating us on everything from relevant issues (i.e. modifications to the customs regulations) to the most insipid topics (i.e. an opinion on Facebook about someone on any particular topic).
In this sea of good—and in some cases not so good—intentions, which forces us to be constantly aware of events, and in which we all take part, actively or passively, we risk losing perspective on potential future versions of ourselves. Information overload tends to make us think only focus on present. Hence, it is important to highlight three events that will likely shape the sociopolitical and economic transformations currently taking place in our nation. These are the (long-delayed) implementation of structural measures envisaged in planning documents approved by Cuban authorities during the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in 2016, which must be implemented before March, 2021; the U.S. Presidential election this November, and the 8th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party to take place in April of 2021.
The Implementation of Reforms approved during the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party.
It is curious, to say the least, that a package of measures proposed by the government of a country doesn’t instituted, or after being implemented, barely complies with its provisions. What has happened in Cuba, over the last few years, (or as we should best say, what has not happened), is evidence that Cuban authorities have centered their attention on the generational handover of power that is still in progress, and thus neglected what should have gone hand in hand with such process and waved as the main flag of this cause: namely, the political, social, and economic agenda. It was not until now, as we face a pandemic and its resulting economic devastation; and in a moment in which popular support is needed at a greater level than exists at the moment, that the topic of the previously approved reforms has made its way back to the official discussion table.
Finally this month, the Cuban government publicly announced its intent to implement the “Concept Documents of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, approved by the 3rd Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party on May 18th, 2017, and endorsed by the National Assembly of the People´s Power (Cuban Parliament) on June 1st, 2017.” Twelve years after the beginning of the implementation of the reforms, there are plenty of reasons for skepticism. People won’t, as the villagers in the fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, respond to the signals. But that only makes the announcement, despite the state’s capacity to implement such changes or the pace they’ll take, all the more relevant.
Some of the most anticipated transformations of the last few years include: (i) the unification of the currency, (ii) wage reform and a more adequate relationship between wages and purchasing power, (iii) recognition of “legal personality” in the private sector, that is, the creation of a formal non-state business sector, (iv) greater flexibility of state enterprises, and their regular interaction with other sectors of the economy, (v) an economic policy focused on progress and wealth generation, (vi) the elimination of bureaucratic obstacles, (vii) greater dynamism in decision-making at the local and provincial level, and (viii) a closer relationship with emigration, among other claims. The list is long.
In this crucial context, we can identify several noteworthy elements: apparent political goodwill in the public acknowledgment of our challenges, ongoing popular demand for the previously mentioned claims, open public discourse on these topics of common interest via social media, and with it broader participation in the national debate. In any event, however far we manage to move forward in the reform process, even under the current circumstances, the outcome should give us a more realistic idea of the true capacity of current Cuban authorities (with fewer and fewer members of the so-called ¨historic generation¨) to pursue their political agenda.
U.S. presidential elections in November, 2020
The U.S. presidential election is highly relevant to Cuba. In the specific case of Cuba, the impact of US foreign policy is intensified by various factors: (i) the geographical proximity and enormous political influence of the US over politics of the countries of the hemisphere, (ii) political differences accumulated over decades of ideological conflict, (iii) disparities between both countries and its consequences for economic development of Cuba, (iv) a politically-engaged Cuban community in the USA, of national consequence for its role Florida elections, which includes (v) a sub-segment with a defined hardline agenda toward Cuba (that has become end onto itself, after decades pursuing policies that don’t accomplish their goals), (vi) the influence of United States foreign policy over the global financial system and the decision-making processes of regional and international organizations, (viii) penalties imposed on banking and the hindrance to international financing agreements, which make the development of both the Cuban economy and national infrastructure very difficult, among other factors.
That is why, as in the brief rapprochement period pursued by president Obama showed, there is another possible scenario for the private sector, the emigration/diaspora, civil society, and the general citizenry to advocate for the social transformations they consider necessary in our nation. The dynamics common to Cuban society; however, have been hindered by the policies of the Trump administration. As can be seen, 3 years since the re-establishment of economic sanctions and other policies that have negatively impacted Cuban society, we are neither in a better situation nor closer to favorable conditions for the development of Cuban civil society.
Criticism leveled at Obama administration´s policy of engagement and dialogue (that could be easily reestablished by future administrations, i.e. if Biden would be elected president) has been supported by the falsehood that Obama had “given everything away in exchange for nothing”; however, such opinions are based on a deep misunderstanding of modern Cuban social matrix, or a total indifference toward furthering any social transformation in Cuba short of so-called “total change” (for which there have never been any real conditions). Add a political sector of Florida, which continues to use the Cuban issue as a way to shore up votes and political careers, with little serious concern for policy outcomes. The impact of their policies on the social transformations taking place in Cuba has been minimal. Instead of enabling Cuban socio-economic transformation, they only disrupt it.
Thus four more years of the current policies, would mean four more years in which we would digress from the direction our nation should be heading: promoting spaces for dialogue, achieving national reconciliation, and economic and social inclusion for Cubans at home and abroad. The truth is that the so-called “nothing” Obama achieved was nothing less than ushering of a new era in which the Cuban people worry less about the whims of US politics and politicians and focus more on their own relationship with the American people. We consider that Cuban society is capable, by itself, of establishing its own objectives, and of claiming the pertinent social transformations it desires. Anything else that does not contribute to the achievement of these objectives is but an obstacle to our future.
The 8th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, to be held in April, 2021
The “historic generation”, for purely biological reasons, is disappearing, and its natural consequence has been the transition of power that the country has undergone over the past four years. This has included a new Constitution, declared objectives for 2030, and an ambitious multi-year legislative timetable. In April 2021, the leadership of the Cuban government will be definitively reconfigured for a new era. From that moment, we’ll be able to evaluate the new balances of power and positions of each of its members, and learn whether current members of the government delayed reforms, or if the obstacles are deeper and more systemic. The VIII Party Congress could be a starting point for a vastly different period in Cuban history.
However, none of these transformations would suffice on their own. More democratic spaces for dialogue between society and government are needed, the search for a greater social consensus in decision-making, an empowering platform for the private sector, a favorable reintegration of our emigration / diaspora, greater recognition of claims by all sectors of civil society including animal rights defenders and the LGTBI+ community, and the clear regulations for their implementation and compliance. These will be among the questions that will determine if Cuba’s social transformations will be simply cosmetic, or if we are in the presence of a deeper process that will bring about the possibility of building, together, a better society defined by coexistence.
The outcomes of these three events will help us gain a better idea of what Cuba’s immediate future will look like (at least until the period 2024-2025). As we all know, unpredictable variables could always affect social and political processes. In any case, there is a combination that would potentially allow for more a ideal scenario for the transformation of the society: the full implementation of all pending reforms due before March/2021, delivering enough reforms to overcome public skepticism; a post-U.S. election pivot toward a policy of engagement with Cuba than enables greater social and commercial ties between the peoples of both countries and finalizing the generational handover of power so that new authorities can focus on the full implementation of the socioeconomic reforms so urgently needed. We don’t know which direction events will take, but the next 12 months are all but sure to pave a path.
Aldo Alvarez is an attorney and Young Professional member of the Cuba Study Group. He lives in Havana, Cuba.