By Glenda Boza Ibarra (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – 2020 was a unique year for Cuba and the world. Our Sunday humor supplement Xel2 reflected the occurrences in its illustrations – sometimes in a humorous way, and others very seriously.
The main events that marked these 12 months were: the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic changes in Cuba, the arrests of activists and independent journalists, the measures and protocols to reduce COVID-19 infections, the San Isidro Movement hunger strike and the peaceful protest on November 27 in front of the Ministry of Culture, just to mention a few.
Cuba continues with no animal protection law
The year ended and the animal welfare law, planned for November, was not passed. The animal defender’s community has advocated for the law for numerous years. In the modified legislative schedule, its discussion was postponed to 2021. However, the fight for animal protection was on the agenda of some media and that of cartoonists throughout 2020. The graphic humor supplement Xel2 addressed the issue in January.
House arrests, interrogations, and police violence throughout the year
During 2020, several independent artists, activists and journalists denounced their house arrests, movement restrictions, interrogations, police surveillance and the prohibition to leave the country without any legal reason. These arbitrary actions against the rights of those who think differently multiplied and were a source of inspiration for the creators of Xel2 on several occasions.
The new coronavirus traveled from Italy to Cuba
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Cuba on March 11 when the first cases were diagnosed. These were three Italian tourists from Lombardy, staying in Trinidad. From that date, the Cuban government began to adopt sanitary measures and protocols to contain infections. The news of the year in the world had to be, inevitably, in the editions of Xel2.
A graphic humor challenge to deal with physical isolation
During the months of more intense quarantine when the world – including Cuba – experienced to reduce the contagion of COVID-19, the members of Xel2 called a daily drawing challenge. Several illustrations portrayed issues related to caring for children at home, collaboration between neighbors, activities at home and even the psychological difficulties that the period of confinement brought with it.
Etecsa and the lost gigabite
The Cuban telecommunications company, Etecsa, was the subject of memes, complaints and ridicule from customers for the “mysterious disappearance” of mobile data packages during the first international top-up that included 1 GB for Internet browsing. The ridicule of the users came when the managers of the company tried to explain what had happened, but they were not convincing.
Art to ward off fundamentalist discourses
Discrimination against the LGBTIQ community and specifically the messages of religious fundamentalists were also part of the saddest reality of 2020. As has been tradition, the artists of Xel2 expressed through their illustrations their concern about the discriminatory discourses of the conservative sectors of the society.
Expansion of US dollar stores
Amid the health crisis due to COVID-19, the year was full of changes in economic matters for Cuba. Among the most unpopular measures was the expansion of stores selling in US dollars. People’s annoyance grew over the consolidation of these businesses – initially they announced 72 and then it grew to more than 200. Although the government authorities explained their need for these establishments in dollars, people are not satisfied.
“Opportunists” grab headlines
A campaign against line repeaters, hoarders and resellers made the news during the summer months in Cuba, when the Government “suggested” that the shortages in the retail network and even the new outbreaks of COVID-19 were also due to the “unscrupulous attitude” of these people. However, as Xel2 suggested, the phenomenon of scarcity cannot be analyzed with that reduced vision that blames these people without even referring to the living conditions of many of them or to the causes that promote activities of this nature.
The uncertainty of monetary unification returns
Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic that turned the world upside down, in Cuba the news of the year is the monetary unification. Planned for January 2021, it filled headlines since September when the authorities began to announce its’ coming. Called the “Ordering Task”, to not say reforms, it includes hundreds of measures in addition to monetary and exchange unification. This process of reorganization of the Cuban economy was one of the main events of 2020 and, surely, 2021.
Learning to live with COVID-19, changes in the official discourse
After a month of strict confinement to contain the complex situation due to COVID-19, the Cuban capital resumed its activities in the “new normal”. The Cuban authorities indicated the need to learn to live with the pandemic and the intention to open up the national economy despite the persistence of several open sources throughout the country. The difficult economic situation made the discourse stop being paternalistic. It changed to the suggestion of learning to live with the disease and take care of yourself individually.
The San Isidro Movement in the pages of Xel2
Towards year end, the independent media devoted much space to the San Isidro Movement and a hunger strike at its headquarters. The strikers included members of the group and other human rights activists. Their chief demand was the release of still imprisoned rapper Denis Solís. As a show of solidarity, Xel2 dedicated one of its editions to these artists and activists. We drew attention to the acts of siege, repression, and repudiation they have suffered.
Fear remains very present in many Cubans lives
Dialogue has been the buzzword since the end of 2020 among some sectors of Cubans. The meeting of artists with Culture authorities on November 27th was a short-lived watershed. Then came the relentless reaction of the state media machinery. It justified the breakdown of a possible meeting with young people who disagree with official policies. Such was the subject of several editions of Xel2.
Increasing hate rallies, house arrest of independent journalists and activists followed. A total violation of constitutional rights of those who oppose the government. Apathy and fear then set in. The topic of dialogue will likely continue to be illustrated during 2021 in this Sunday humor supplement.