HAVANA TIMES – The year 2017 opens in Cuba under the effects of 2016. The government announces a year of austerity with a tense economy despite the tourist boom, after revelations of a negative GDP growth in the year just concluded.
Raul Castro acknowledged the dependence of the Cuban government on the fate of Chavismo and its president, Nicolas Maduro, in Venezuela, which provides oil on very favorable terms to the island and which hires from the Cuban government, at well-paid prices, professionals for its social programs.
Below we publish the summary of the year 2016 compiled by the website Café Fuerte.
Twelve news items that impacted Cuba and Cubans in 2016
The selection was made considering the repercussion of these events for the political, economic and cultural life of the country, presented without responding to a chronological order. The list represents the criteria of the publishers and contributors to the digital site, and as always is open to criticism and suggestions from readers. We are especially grateful for the contribution of the journalist Daniel Benítez in this annual information compilation process.
- THE DEATH OF FIDEL CASTRO
The death of Fidel Castro caused a real commotion in the political and social panorama of Cuba and the world. The man, who changed the contemporary history of Cuba, led a dispute that put the planet on the verge of a nuclear war and created the most bitter and irreconcilable divisions in the Cuban family, died at age 90 after a decade of convalescence and nominal retirement from power.
It was Friday November 25th near midnight when president Raul Castro made the announcement of a minute and 18 seconds on national television, assuring that the Commander in Chief had died at 10:29 p.m. and that his remains would be cremated.
The government decreed nine days of national mourning. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans paraded in front of Fidel’s portrait in the Plaza de la Revolution and in each locality around the country. While the state television cameras broadcast continuous images of people’s suffering for the loss of their leader, the contrast was lived those days in Miami, where hundreds of exiles opposed to his rule took to the streets to celebrate the long awaited news.
After the ashes traveled from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, the remains of Fidel Castro were deposited inside a large stone that was integrated into a discreet mausoleum, adjacent to the memorial where the national hero José Marti rests. The burial at the dawn of December 4th ended an era in Cuba and Latin America, with expectations of a new stage of transformation in the country after the demise of the symbol of the historical generation of the revolution.
Although the one-party socialist system and totalitarian control has not moved a bit, the truth is that Cuba will definitely be different from now on, without the weight of Fidel Castro’s shadow.
- OBAMA IN HAVANA
Barack Obama traveled to Havana for the first visit of a United States president to the island in 88 years. Air Force 1, which transported Obama, his family and the presidential entourage, arrived in the Cuban capital on Sunday, March 20, 2016, at 4:19 p.m., opening a historic chapter between the two countries.
On the morning of his last day in Cuba, Obama gave a speech to the Cuban people in the newly restored “Alicia Alonso” Grand Theater, where he said that the time had come to leave behind the past and look to the future. In his speech, heard in person by high ranking Cuban government officials and visitors from the Cuban-American community, the US president called for the reconciliation of all Cubans and a democratic future for the island.
Obama’s trip and pronouncements sparked popular sympathy in Cuba. Then authorities unleashed an offensive against his alleged attempts to “demobilize” Cubans and make them forget their history. The anti-Obama campaign was set off by an article by Fidel Castro himself. For political analysts of the ruling party, Obama is “the most dangerous” of US presidents faced by the Cuban process.
- DIRECT COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS BETWEEN CUBA AND THE US
On August 31, another of the longest prohibitions between Cuba and the United States ended with the reestablishment of commercial air routes, interrupted since 1961. The first flight departed from Fort Lauderdale for the city of Santa Clara. In JetBlue’s Airbus A320s traveled tourists, journalists and officials, including US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. They entered the runway through an arc of water jets, as is usually the case for inaugural flights. It was the first of up to 110 direct daily flights to Cuba approved by the Department of Transportation with the endorsement of the Cuban government.
- DEATH OF THE CUBAN PITCHER JOSÉ FERNÁNDEZ
Cuban pitcher Jose Fernandez, one of the great promises of Major League Baseball and an idol of the Miami community, died on the morning of September 25 in a boating accident off the coast of Miami Beach. He was 24 years old and was the undisputed star of the Miami Marlins. His death caused widespread grief in Miami. Investigations later revealed that Fernandez had used cocaine the night of the traffic incident with his boat. Two other young people died in the accident.
- THE ROLLING STONES IN HISTORIC HAVANA CONCERT
The political thaw with the United States and the visit of its president was followed by the musical thaw. On March 25, the world’s most important rock band, The Rolling Stones, starred in a historic open-air concert at Havana’s Sports City. It is estimated that more than a million people listened to the emblematic British band, whose music was vetoed for years on the island. To offer the show the band’s producers transported 61 containers, a Boeing 747 and 350 people to the island at a cost of $7 million dollars. The concert was recorded in the documentary Havana Moon, released this year.
- HURRICANE MATTHEW DEVASTATES FAR EASTERN CUBA
At the beginning of October, Hurricane Matthew rammed the far eastern part of Cuba and left the islands first city, Baracoa, in ruins. In several municipalities, more than 38,800 homes were reported with partial or total damage. Recovery could take years. In total, more than 360 thousand people were affected. The situation forced the government to mobilize Special Forces and resources to bring the area out of the deep devastation and avoid chaos.
- IMMIGRANT CRISIS IN CENTRAL AMERICA
The first two months were marked by the crisis of thousands of Cubans on the borders of Central and South American countries. It is estimated that between the last weeks of January and the first of February 2016 about nine thousand people were crowded at several border points in Panama and Costa Rica creating a tense situation in the region and forcing the joint action of several governments. Among the measures that were adopted an airlift was created that enabled thousands of migrants to cross Nicaragua (which had closed and militarized its southern border to migrants).
Since the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba was announced and the opening of embassies in both capitals, a massive and silent exodus escalated uncontrollably from Cuba. In 2015-2016 an estimated more than 50,000 Cubans have arrived at different border points and requested asylum in the United States.
- EUROPEAN UNION ENDS COMMON POSITION
The Council of Ministers of the European Union agreed to revoke the Common Position imposed on Cuba in 1996, a decision that was made effective with the signing of the new agreement on political dialogue and cooperation between the parties on December 12th.
The Common Position conditioned all progress in relations between the European Union and Cuba to advances in democratization and human rights on the island, which was the main stumbling block for full relations and meant a backing for the dissident movement. Cuba and the European Union began negotiations on this pact in April 2014 in order to open a new phase of relations. European Union Foreign Policy High Representative Federica Mogherini and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez signed the agreement in Brussels, eliminating the last political and diplomatic obstacle faced by the regime of Raul Castro in the international arena.
- WIFI FEVER SEIZES CUBANS
Cubans lived the Wi-Fi fever this year in more than 200 zones established by the state company ETECSA for pay-for wireless connection. The country currently has 1,006 public Internet browsing points and 200 WiFi zones which register a total of 250,000 users daily.
This year, 135 Wi-Fi connection zones were installed, in addition to the 65 that existed since last year. It has become popular to use of applications to connect visually with family and friends in the United States and other parts of the world. Near the end of the year, ETECSA announced an encouraging reduction of 2 to 1.50 CUC for one hour internet service cards.
- FIRST CRUISER FROM THE US IN OVER 50 YEARS
For the first time in more than 50 years a cruise ship sailed from the United States to Cuba. The Adonis left May 1 from the port of Miami with about 700 passengers and docked in Havana.
The Carnival cruise was involved in controversy and the trip was in question until the Cuban government lifted the ban to enter by sea for US citizens born on the island, in a migratory measure that fell after years of denials. Royal Caribbean, another of the leaders of the cruise market, announced that it has reached an agreement to begin its trips to Cuba in the beginning of 2017.
- ECONOMIC COLLAPSE AND OIL SUPPLY CRISIS
Speaking to a session of the Cuban Parliament, Raul Castro recognized the economic restrictions that the country faces, conditioned to the decline in cooperation with Venezuela and, particularly, to the drop in oil supplies from the South American country. It was recognition of the economic recession that the country is experiencing due to the exacerbation of external financial restrictions due to the non-fulfillment of export revenues and the problems faced by some of Cuba’s main trading partners, especially Venezuela.
During the first half of 2016, Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew only 1 percent, half of what had been projected, and by the end of the year the statistic for the year became a negative growth rate of 0.9 percent. Oil supplies from Venezuela fell by an estimated 26 to 40 percent during 2016.
12. SPORTS DEBACLE IN RIO DE JANEIRO
The Cuban delegation ended its performance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with the meager harvest of 11 medals, a figure that returned the nation’s sports to the point where it was 44 years ago. The five gold medals, two silver and four bronze medals won by Cuban athletes in the Brazilian Olympics were the worst results since Munich 1972, when Cuba showed the initial consolidation of its sports movement driven by the revolutionary process.
Cover photo by Ania Kruptokow