Is Cuba On the Verge of a New Special Period?

By Pedro P. Morejon

Photo: Juan Suárez

HAVANA TIMES – “A new Special Period is on the horizon” is the word on the street. People are afraid because in spite of current shortages and how hard it is just to get by, many people remember that that was a particularly dark time in modern day Cuban history.

Nobody was expecting it that time. In spite of foreign wars, repression, absolute censorship, limited freedoms and living in constant fear, the poorest Cubans still managed to live off their wages up until then. The country was traveling on board a Soviet ship, which suddenly sank and everything came crashing down as a result.

The world saw it coming, but in a Cuba cut off from the rest of the world, almost nobody knew about the Perestroika or Glasnost, the last death rattles of the then USSR. because Soviet publications had been censored in Cuba in the late ‘80s. We were cruelly trapped.

I was only 16 when I heard the euphemism “Special Period” for the first time, and later on, the fearsome zero option.

Nearly everything disappeared. Literally. People began to go hungry. A horrible hunger that led to suicide, a spike in crime, widespread polyneuritis (popularly known as the “Very Very, caused by zero protein consumption), a scandalous spike in prostitution, with foreign tourists, and a mass exodus of migrants which reached its peak in 1994 with the rafters’ crisis. Things got worse every year after that.

Between hunger, widespread shortages and blackouts, it became clear that the Cuban economy had only survived because it was a parasite of the Soviet giant, and that promises made decades ago about transforming Cuba into a developed and prosperous nation, never went further than a huge chaotic mess.

Now, without its natural market just 90 miles north, it became clear just how inefficient the system was. That’s why, in the summer of ‘94, people hit rock bottom and their despair was so great that thousands took to the Malecon in Havana and neighboring areas on August 5th, to protest the only way they could: they shouted anti-government slogans, breaking anything they found in their path and looting stores.

Thanks to his leadership and totalitarian grip on society, the charismatic Comandante knew how to come safely out of that storm and the crisis, leaving many Cubans who used to sing Willy Chirino’s memorable tune “Ya viene llegando”, with the frustration of their dreams being thrown out of the window. The national economy opened to foreign investment and new suppliers appeared later on in the geopolitical scene, such as China and Venezuela.

However, if anything positive came out of that “Hellish Period”, it was that many blind Cubans could finally see the light, and the gradual decline of the regime’s control became clear. So much so that they had to make small concessions and change their discourse.

They began to call the exiles they used to call “Miami’s worms” “community”; Christians and other religious people stopped being the enemy, and entrepreneurs no longer had their goods confiscated and were no longer called the mini-bourgeoisie, and became “the self-employed” instead. What’s more, they now use concepts such as Rule of Law and Civil Society. And, the combination of this new politics and the control they still have has ensured that they remain in power and continue with the same agenda.

But now, without the Revolution’s leader, and amidst a completely different and adverse context, I wonder: Will this government survive a hypothetical Special Period? I think not.

7 thoughts on “Is Cuba On the Verge of a New Special Period?

  • June 19, 2019 at 10:31 am
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    The noose is tightening, but around which necks? Is it the necks of the Castro communist regime, or that of the people of Cuba?
    For Diaz-Canel there was perhaps a moment when he realized that despite the inner glow of his intended future, there was a looming potential chill. That moment was when on the 21st March, 2016 Barack Obama gave his speech at the Alicia Alonso Theatre in Havana. There sitting on the balcony was Raul Castro with Diaz-Canel on his right hand. Raul had taken a calculated (with Raul, everything is calculated) risk in his enthusiasm to demonstrate “change” to the outside world, to permit Obama to address the people of Cuba on live television, undoubtedly a condition laid down to enable the visit by the US President. For Diaz-Canel who for good reason remained stony-faced throughout, there was an obvious ominous threat when towards the end of his speech Obama urged Cubans:
    “In the long years to come, do not despair, do not yield.”
    That followed a critical comment about Cuba’s communist economics:
    “The wealth of a nation comes not from what it consumes, but from what it produces.”

    El Comandante is dead, Raul although still in power is 88 and despite hopes for achieving a designation similar to that which he bestowed upon Ernesto Guevara de la Serna Lynch and Hugo Chavez of being “sacred”, has a limited future. For Diaz-Canel that future looks bleak, on the one hand is the possibility of internal challenge from Alejandro Castro Espin and Luis Alberto Rodriguez Callejas and the overt ambitions of Bruno Rodriguez and Marino Murillo. Without the charisma of the Castros, will Cubans continue to meekly accept not only the “new” constitution, but those unchanged Laws so ruthlessly applied by MININT?
    The communist USSR rotted from within, is Cuba similarly going to do so?

    As I concluded in Cuba Lifting the Veil:

    “For the people of Cuba there remains only that faint hope which they have tenaciously clung onto for so many long years. Hope for the younger generations that they may yet know freedom and opportunity to live in their beautiful country free from repression, with freedom of expression, freedom of the media and freedom to vote for political parties of choice. Cubans deserve no less, for only then will they become members of an open society in a free world that waits to welcome them with open arms. Liberty and that poignant cry for freedom beckon and humanity demands.”

    Reply
  • June 19, 2019 at 11:50 am
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    I was there in 1993, and in 1994 when the “Maleconazo” happened. I,ve lost count of the times and reasons I’ve heard like this that the Revolution is about to fall. 25 years have passed, and Cuba is still free. It’s not because of fear. It’s because the government, however inefficiently and w/ limitless quirkiness, does what it can to take care of it’s own people.

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  • June 19, 2019 at 11:57 am
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    Hope springs eternal in every man heart… .”

    Reply
  • June 19, 2019 at 12:00 pm
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    I am Cuban and I lived there long enough to know for a fact that no matter how things turn out to be the old dinosaurs who are handling the strings on the population think they can do it again. They have everything they need; their families will continue traveling and spending huge amounts of money.The Cuban population? Well it’s their problem to survive.

    Reply
    • June 19, 2019 at 3:01 pm
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      hola from Scotland amigos
      nothing Lasts FOREVER
      British Roman ottoman Viking empire they all collapse
      Cuba can and will change
      from inside and outside

      Reply
  • June 19, 2019 at 4:49 pm
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    Obviously Dan, your concept of freedom is a totalitarian state where the people are instructed and indoctrinated to become a “mass” with people of your own convictions hold power and control. Has it occurred to you that freedom involves the rights of the individual to act as they choose, to bring up their children to think as individuals rather than becoming part of the communist desired mindless mass? You may regard communist doctrine as “quirkiness”, but it is more accurately described as dictatorship. As you admire the regime so much, can you relate when the Poder Popular last held discussion about improving the living standards “of it’s own people”? Methinks you reflect the view of George Orwell:
    “Nothing is gained by teaching a parrot a new word.”

    Reply

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