So What Happened in 2013?

Erasmo Calzadilla

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — December tends to accentuate my awareness of time. Before, I used to hop onto January as carefree as someone crossing a line painted on the sidewalk. Lately, however, I’ve been taking the whole process more seriously.

What happened in 2013? Where are we heading? What’s become of me and my projects? I try to recall the most important events to get a sense of how the year unfolded, but memory fails me. Luckily, we have the Internet to fall back on.

Wikipedia and other Internet sites keep a daily record of world events. I selected those that struck me as the most important in the course of these past twelve months.

January was something of a prototype for the eleven months that followed in 2013.

Syria continued to be torn by the armed conflict that, according to UN data, has already claimed some 100,000 lives. The warring factions are expected to convene at the beginning of 2014 but there aren’t many prospects for peace. The conflict has been classified as the century’s second bloodiest conflict, second only to the crisis unleashed in Iraq by the United States and its allies.

In general terms, Asia’s oil region experienced much unrest during the month: Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan saw terrorist attacks, car bombs and other such “gifts” dropped from non-piloted war planes throughout the year.

One of the month’s news-worthy incidents was France’s military intervention in Mali, reportedly aimed at containing terrorist encroachment in the country. The world was also saddened by news of a fire in a disco in Brazil, which claimed the lives of hundreds of young people (it seems as though it happened yesterday).

Obama was sworn into office for a second term and, the next day, declared the war was ending. Ending more lives, he should have said.

In Cuba, new migratory laws came into effect. Though favorable, they continue to treat Cubans living abroad like second-rate citizens. We have yet to see even a tiny improvement in this connection.


In the middle of the month, North Korea detonated the most powerful nuclear weapon they had manufactured till then. Thank God we’re one of their allies (we’ve even sent them a shipment of weapons). I hope that counts for something.

The science of the cosmos has made much progress on Earth. We have a myriad of telescopes aimed at the remote confines of space, to places that are so remote that none of these telescopes were able to detect a fairly large meteorite heading for our planet. Ultimately, it struck Russian territory, causing minor damage and leaving hundreds injured. It could have been much worse.

In Bulgaria, protests sparked off by high electricity bills resulted in the resignation of the country’s prime minister. Do you remember the times when oil was almost as cheap as water?

I’m a bit absent-minded. In February, It suddenly dawned on me Raul Castro has been elected president of the Republic of Cuba. If his daughter Mariela Castro or some other relative doesn’t inherit the position, the Castros will be in power until 2018.

On the 24th of the month, a strike in Colombia’s coffee industry began.

It’s all the same to me, but many maintain that the Pope’s resignation is among the most important events of the month.

The French parliament also finally legalized gay marriages in the course of the month. There’s no way this is happening in Cuba any time soon.

March was true to its warrior name in 2013.

The conflict raged on in Syria with the kidnapping of UN envoys, chemical weapon attacks and the striking of the University of Damascus.

A little further east, the peace treaty signed by the two Koreas expired and North Korea declared war against its neighbor.

For Cubans, however, the death of Hugo Chavez was the most significant event of the month – some admired him, others feared the advent of another economic crisis comparable to the Special Period and, finally, others felt the development spelled the possibility of change.

Francisco was elected Pope this month.


Nicolas Maduro, “Chavez’ successor”, became president of Venezuela following close elections. For Cuba’s dying socio-economic system, this spelled a few more years of artificial resuscitation.

In mid-April, the terrorist attack at the Boston marathon shocked this side of the world.

We were also witness to something of a crazy development: a private company announced a project aimed at founding a colony on the arid face of Mars by 2022. It looks as though they meant it, because they are recruiting candidates who meet certain requirements for the mission. Those Cubans wishing to take part in the expedition must submit a letter signed by the chair of their Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and a document certifying they have completed military service.


The bombing of Damascus by Israeli forces claimed the lives of 50 people. Under different circumstances, the action would have unleashed an international conflict, but the Arab country was far too weakened by its internal conflict to be able to respond to the attack.

To the dismay of environmentalists, Nicaragua announced a project aimed at constructing a canal similar to the one in Panama. China is to provide the funding.

The One World Trade Center was opened on the site where the World Trade Center once stood. Today, it is the tallest skyscraper in the West and a veritable temptation for terrorists who hate the United States.


During the FIFA Cup tournament, Brazilians took to the streets to protest the rise in public transportation prices. Almost simultaneously, the Turks rose against their government and suffered harsh repression.

The release of the Airbus 350, an immense commercial airliner I wouldn’t want to see crash into the One World Trade Center, met with much acclaim.

June also brought some good news:

An Argentinian court convicted former President Menem to seven years in prison. The charges? Weapons smuggling.

Kim Jong-Un decided to resume talks with South Korea (under pressure from the Chinese, I am told).

Edward Snowden brought to light documents revealing how the United States spies on friends and enemies alike.


During the school break and following massive and almost festive protests, a coup d’état in Egypt overthrew President Mursi. What struck many as a popular victory is considered by many the epilogue of the Arab Spring. As a result of the political earthquake this brought about, a court absolved former President Mubarak (accused of the deaths of hundreds of protesters). The country has not been able to achieve stability.

A train in Compostela, Spain ran off the rails and claimed the lives of 79 passengers.


Thousands of people were horribly killed in Syria following the explosion of a rocket loaded with chemical weapons.

A ship carrying an illegal cargo of Cuban weapons was detained at the Panama Canal on its way to North Korea. Had they waited a little longer, Ortega would have probably allowed the ship to cross the Nicaragua Canal.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, representative of Latin America’s progressive governments, announced that oil prospecting would begin at the Yasuni environmental reserve, one of the Amazon’s most important regions from an ecological point of view. I wonder how far this madness will go.

September and October were troubled months for Africa. A shooting at a shopping center in Kenya caused the deaths of 72 persons and left a great many injured.

Days later, nearly 400 immigrants from the African continent drowned while attempting to reach Italy by ship.

This month, Cuban musician Roberto Carcaces tore down the wall of silence on a stage at Havana’s Anti-Imperialist Grandstand (the square of Cuban “revolutionaries”). There was no bloodshed and I feel people are less afraid to speak out now.

In November, an extraordinarily powerful typhoon swept away more than 10,000 Filipinos like grains of rice. Could it be the result of climate change, already rearing its ugly head around the world? Environmentalists are debating the issue.

After so much conflict, it was refreshing to hear that Iran had agreed to eliminate all of the uranium that could be employed in the making of nuclear weapons.

A Swiss institute confirmed suspicions that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had been poisoned with Polonium.

Elections in Chile and Honduras steered our attention towards Latin America. Will Bachelet be able to reform a constitution drawn up under Chile’s dictatorship?


Cuban news reported on Nelson Mandela’s death for several days. Raul Castro and Barack Obama shook hands before television cameras, giving hope to some and causing anger in others. In my opinion, no world event was more important than the legalization of marihuana in Uruguay. I want to fight to have Cuba follow in its footsteps.

This is my rather humble and personal selection that you can enrich with your comments. To sum up, I would say that, in terms of the horror to which we’ve become accustomed, the world behaved in a rather predictable manner. I noticed, however, that the factors that will one day unleash the storm (climate change and fossil fuel shortages) are already in sight. In 2014, we can expect a worsening of the world’s environmental condition and an increase in armed conflicts, particularly in oil regions.

What about us Cubans? We will continue to passively accept Raul Castro’s reforms, which are ultimately of little help to average folk. How much discontent is necessary for a movement akin to the Indignados or Occupy to finally erupt on this Caribbean isle?

One thought on “So What Happened in 2013?

  • What is very interesting in this post is the “Castro” spin on the international news events. My first exposure to this manner of interpreting history is how my wife learned in Cuban schools how the Russians are credited for the defeat of the Nazis in WWII and the US and our allies played a minor role in the victory. In this post, Erasmo links the violence in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan to “terrorists” attacks and to US drones as the culprit. As if, but for those pesky US drones, that part of the world would be peaceful. On the other hand, Erasmo notes the tragic typhoon that hit the Phillipines but failed to mention the tens of millions of dollars of US aid sent in the aftermath. Ironically, he also failed to mention the North Korean ship loaded with Cuban aircraft and weapons? Simple ignorance or something more sinister going on here?

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