Cuba after 2012: Unknowns in 2013

By Isaac Risco (dpa)

Foto: Deborah Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — Though Pope Benedict XVI came and went in 2012, the biggest news for Cubans this year was the announcement of long awaited immigration reform. Celebrated initially, qualified by several experts, and criticized by the disenchanted internal opposition, this relaxation of policy with regard to travel poses big questions for the Caribbean island in 2013.

In a year marked in its second half by the start of Colombian peace process negotiations in Havana, Hugo Chavez’s return to the island to deal with his worsening health, and Hurricane Sandy hitting Santiago, the immigration reform policy that takes effect on January 14 is the major topic of the beginning of the year on the island.

Will Cubans begin traveling abroad freely starting in 2013? The reform announced in October formally offers the ability to travel for all those who can afford to and can obtain the necessary visas from other countries. However “the devil is in the details” criticized dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, one of the people who might have difficulty getting in and out of the island.

Although the new immigration law eliminates the requirements of a special exit permit (“la carta blanca”) and a letter of invitation from abroad, the language in the law also points to possible “filters”: it’s estimated that highly qualified professionals will run into difficulties in trying to leave, as will political opponents.

Like the various market reforms in recent years, the law nonetheless is promoting certain economic processes, though it’s still difficult to predict their scope. Just as some Cubans — the minority — have improved their incomes through self-employment, others will now benefit from the ability to travel.

Many will return with money and goods from abroad, and the large exile community in Florida will especially bring in more capital to the island after the elimination of restrictions on some of those who left Cuba illegally.

The law, however, also poses challenges for the government. “Changes necessarily lead to demands for further reforms,” believes Arturo Lopez Levy, a Cuban-American expert at the University of Denver. “Undoubtedly,” many people will ask for more reforms and liberalization, Lopez Levy told dpa.

The United States will also need to address Cuba’s immigration reform. Special US laws continue to grant privileges to Cubans who reach the United States, even when they get there illegally.

Always at the center of interest for possible political events, the world looked at Cuba in late March with the arrival of Benedict XVI. This was the second visit by a Catholic pontiff to the island since John Paul II in 1998.

Given the increasing role of the Catholic Church as the only internal interlocutor of the Castro government, eyes were focused on what Benedict might say in the four public messages he gave while on the island – two of them Masses, one in Santiago de Cuba and the other in Revolution Square in Havana.

Despite the surprise created by the first words by the Pope regarding Latin America (on the plane taking him to Mexico he said Marxist ideology “no longer relates to reality”), what marked his visit most were his especially cordial exchanges with Raul Castro.

Several dissidents then harshly criticized the pontiff for his refusal to meet with them.

In late July, there was the death in an automobile accident of dissident leader Oswaldo Paya, known for a legal initiative he headed a decade ago to reform the political system of Fidel Castro. The opponent’s death in the east of the island shocked the international community.

A young Spanish politician, Angel Carromero, was sentenced in mid-October to four years in prison for involuntary homicide as the driver of the vehicle in which Paya and another opposition figure were killed. Carromero and Swedish national Jens Aron Modig, both conservative members of youth organizations in Europe, had come to the island as tourists to meet with Cuban dissidents.

Aron Modig was able to return to Sweden shortly after the accident. The governments of Madrid and Havana recently announced an agreement whereby Carromero will be allowed to serve his sentence in Spain.

The year ends with the same uncertainties about the government’s economic reforms: Will they be enough to boost the economy?

Three attempts at finding oil in Cuban waters in the Gulf of Mexico failed in 2012. This means the government will have to keep looking for ways to secure its financial survival, especially now that the illness of President Hugo Chavez opens unknowns about the future of Venezuela, which provides vital support to Cuba with oil.

Despite the economic reforms, the government has made it clear that there will be no changes in the political system. The largely unknown and badly divided dissent “movement,” traditionally accused of serving as a spearhead of Washington for destabilizing the island, will continue insisting on more political space.

Added to this, 81-year-old Raul Castro is expected to be confirmed for five more years in power following the February 3 parliamentary elections.

12 thoughts on “Cuba after 2012: Unknowns in 2013

  • Merry Christmas to all my Cuba-centric and Cubaphilic friends.

  • You go round and round with your words. For example, this “majority of Americans who wish freedom to choose their own future for the Cuban people” is literally the Monroe Doctrine wearing a lamb’s clothing. This freedom is defined by Washington. If normal diplomatic relations between US and Cuba ought to improve Cuba’s development, why holding on? Both the diplomatic ties and the blockade are unilaterally maintained by the US, and you *support* them. Now you talk about the Miami Mafia, the same one I’ve been yearning for quite a time. Like Grady said, the “Empire desperately needs a “failed economy” next door in Cuba to keep the people of the United States isolated in its mind-control bubble”. They need a crippled ‘enemy’ to help foster their political/economical hegemony to the rest of the world. Cuba have time and time again said it was open to diplomatic talks with the US without preconditions of any kind – the latter part is important because it has everything to do with sovereignty. About drugs, I have one sentence for you: the utter failure of Plan Colombia on its ‘surface’ objectives. Or the opium poppy production on Afghanistan before and after the ‘war on terror’.

  • Not to nit-pic Luis, but I didn’t say that Americans don’t want normal relations. I said “a majority of Americans who wish freedom to choose their own future for the Cuban people.” Perhaps because of the language difference you have misunderstood. Americans want normal relations but more than that Americans want Cubans to be free. Most Americans, including me, believe that normal diplomatic relations with the US will help Cuba to internally resolve their problems. However, until Alan Gross is released it would be an insult pretend that normal relations could be achieved. Yes, America has kept counsel with a rogues list of despots, dictators and fools. The Castros are unique among world leaders with regards to the US in that none of the other countries that you listed and have or had the political lobby of the Miami mafia. You seem stuck on what is right and wrong, logical and illogical and I am talking about what makes the world go ’round. The Castros taught Cuba to read and they also helped FARC to sell cocaine. You have clearly chosen a side, but it sounds like you don’t know everything about your side. I know my team is not made up of angels. I still choose ’em.

  • I was in Cuba in November ( 77 th research trip ) and many Cubans are very excited about leaving Cuba for work. I believe many will find employment on cruise ships.

  • Me locked up in a ‘ locked into a mindset of good guys and bad guys’? You should take a look at yourself, because all you’ve sustained through your comments can be summed up in one sentence: ‘the Castros are evil and therefore must die’.

    Age does not have anything to do with one’s understanding of things. You fall into a fallacy of authority – ‘I’m older than you, so therefore I am right’. I’ve seen ancient people doing such infantile political analysis on newspapers that it makes me laugh at the editors. Anyway how do you know my age? Am I in my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s…? That doesn’t matter.

    Sorry, but you are the wrong yet again about your opinion being of that the ‘majority of Americans’, for example, most want the US to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba:

    Back to the topic of US international politics, if the ‘style of leadership’ had anything to do with being friendly of not with a country – and you ‘skipped’ an explanation for the examples of US policy towards Batista’s Cuba and Allende’s Chiles – why did it support Ben Ali’s Tunisia and Murabak’s Egipt for so long? Why are the internal matters of Saudi Arabia or China simply irrelevant when it comes to US diplomacy?

  • Luis, you seemed locked into a mindset of good guys and bad guys. The real world does not function along those lines. Arrogance is a young leftist Brazilian who claims to understand American history and government policy better than an American who has worked for that government more years than you have lived. It may appear to you like I parrot the government’s statements but it is really that my government is parroting my thoughts and those of a majority of Americans who wish freedom to choose their own future for the Cuban people. There is a federal LAW that requires that Cuba make steps toward democracy. Currently, there is an lack of support in Congress to lift the embargo against Cuba by repealing that law WITHOUT action taken on Cuba’s part. Should Sen. Bob Menendez become the Senate committee on Foreign Relations as is rumored, this possibility becomes even more remote. You are correct in asserting that Cuba’s form of government is not a critical issue to American policy-makers. Cuba’s style of leadership if not the leaders themselves ARE an issue. You obviously fail to see the difference.

  • Thanks, Isaac Risco, for a provocative recap of the past year in Cuban affairs.

    The line being spread by some people about an improvement in relations between the US and Cuba being dependent upon political and social progress is Cuba is pure horse manure. The Empire desperately needs a “failed economy” next door in Cuba to keep the people of the United States isolated in its mind-control bubble.

    The criminal blockage therefore–it seems to me–will continue and intensify, to try and prevent economic relief from the bureaucratic constipation of Marxian state monopoly socialism.

  • And what troubles me is your sheer arrogance and simply amazing lack of perspective and comprehension of how and why Cuba-US relations have worked out throughout the years. You are the very first person I see that actually *defends* the blockade. This is not a typical thing of a sane person. Not at all. If you were female certainly Obama would have chosen YOU as the US Secretary of State, because all you do is parrot it.

    You are completely wrong when you say that “if Cuba wants normal relations with the US, Cuba neeeds to show signs of moving toward a more democratic society.” Hello-o, the US doesn’t give a DAMN about how a country is ruled. It’s only interest is on how much it can make a profit out of it, be it economical or geopolitical. Hell, the US were just FINE with Batista. Another example was Allende’s Chile, by all means democratic according to the representative rule, and what happened? Your lovely country DESTROYED a dream of millions of embracing a different type of socialism that just simply didn’t mimic the USSR.

    These two examples (and there are many more) leave your diplomatic theory to the trash bin.

  • Acknowledging a lack of complete certainty, I believe that Mr. Lopez Levy was once, through marriage, actually related to the Castros. Of course, this relation, even it were true does not make his comments any more or less true. Facts are facts. What troubles me about his comments here on HT and several other internet sites is his constant failure to acknowledge the actions that the Castros should take to improve relations with the US. his demands for his adoped country always exceed what he demands of his country of birth. This is a characteristic common to Castro sympathizers. The fact is that for 2013, if Cuba wants normal relations with the US, Cuba neeeds to show signs of moving toward a more democratic society.

  • Whenever I see Mr. Arturo Lopez Levy’s name in print it is invariably accompanied by the automatic phrase “a Cuban-American expert at the University of Denver.” Must be printed on his card or something.

    In an article at the new York Times, it was revealed that Mr. Levy maintains a “close relationship” with elements of the Cuban government. In fact, Lopez-Levy was once an officer of the Cuban military. Is it not more accurate then to say, “Mr. Arturo Lopez Levy, Castro regime representative at the University of Denver”…?

  • “The United States will also need to address Cuba’s immigration reform. ”

    Cuba has made no immigration reform, because Cuba has no immigration. Who would want to move to Cuba? The Cuban government promised some limited reforms to emigration, as tens of thousands of Cubans continue to leave the island every year.

    However, there is no reason given as to why the US “needs to address” these promised reforms.

  • If the Castro “government” allows Rosa María Payá and Yoani Sanchez to travel in 2013, then I will start believing in the Raul Castro “new immigration law”! Lets make that the “acid test”!! What does the Castro family oligarchy fear of these two young women?

    THE SATIAGO CHILE TIMES: Cuba denies visa for opposition leader wanting to study in Chile –
    The Cuban government denied the request Tuesday of opposition movement leader Rosa María Payá to leave the country to study in Chile. – Thursday, 13 December 2012

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