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Almost everyone – government officials and critics – agree that the year that just ended was a ‘bitter’ one for Cubans. Photo of Hurricane Irma in Cuba (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 December 2017 — The year 2017 has not left a pleasant memory among Cubans. The last twelve months were marked by economic difficulties, the retreat in the diplomatic thaw with the United States, the destruction left by Hurricane Irma and a regional context increasingly adverse for the island’s government.

Despite the reported growth of 1.6% in the Gross Domestic Product, the lives of Cubans this year suffered under the negative effects of shortages, low wages and the dual currency system that will soon be a quarter of a century old.

The economic reforms promoted by Raúl Castro also suffered setbacks. The imposition of price caps on agricultural markets, the new regulations on private carriers and the freezing of the delivery of new licenses for self-employment in several occupations, marked part of that slowdown.

The economic reforms promoted by Raúl Castro also suffered setbacks

In civil society, the most relevant initiatives revolved around the municipal elections held on November 26, with efforts to nominate independent candidates as possible delegates to the People’s Power. However, an intense repression, coupled with a permanent campaign of defamation against the activists, led to not a single one being nominated.

With the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House and the new direction taken by his administration with regards to relations with the island, a process of “cooling” of the diplomatic thaw initiated by Barack Obama began. The climax of that estrangement was reached after the scandal of the alleged acoustic attacks against US officials working on the island.

The resulting departure of most of the staff of the US Embassy in Havana and the cancellation of consular work at the site, such as the issuance of visas, accelerated the backward steps in the relationship between the two countries. Now, Cubans who want to visit our neighbor to the north must apply for a US visa from a third country, which complicates the process and makes it more expensive. The elimination, last January, of the policy of wet foot/dry foot policy that granted migratory privileges to the citizens of the Island has also been a severe blow for those who planned to emigrate.

The passage of Hurricane Irma across the northern part of the country and the significant damage left by its winds were part of the bad news that rounded out 2017. According to official figures, the storm left 10 dead and 13.185 billion dollars in damages to industry, housing, agriculture and other infrastructure.

The passage of Hurricane Irma across the northern part of the country and the significant damage it left were part of the bad news that rounded out 2017

Foreign investment did not grow as the ruling party expected. The Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, said last October that “Cuba has managed to attract foreign capital exceeding 2 billion dollars in 2017,” but acknowledged the “delays in the preparation of studies, the delays in the completion of procedures and the lack of preparation of the national entities.”

In the creative sector, artists experienced a reinforcement of censorship that led to the removal of works for their critical content, penalties against cultural officials for allowing references to the independent press in official catalogs, and the arrests of independent artists to prevent them from presenting their works.

The degree of political propaganda in the national media also increased, especially in the days close to the first anniversary of the death of former President Fidel Castro. Oblivious to this expansion of ideology in the press managed by the Communist Party, alternative cultural consumption grew. Phenomena such as the Weekly Packet and illegal wireless networks were consolidated during this year.

The reputation of Raúl Castro continued to wane in national public opinion because of the breach of important promises such as monetary unification, the promulgation of a new Electoral Law and the increase of food production. His absence in the areas affected by Hurricane Irma also contributed to this loss of popularity, in a country where surveys are not conducted to measure support for a government.

The Venezuelan crisis was one of the most important factors affecting the last twelve months in Cuba due to the cuts in the oil subsidies

The Venezuelan crisis was one of the most important factors affecting the last twelve months in Cuba due to cuts in the island’s oil subsidies received from Nicolás Maduro’s government, which had a significant impact on the national reality. The greater rapprochement of Russia, in the field of business and energy investments, managed to alleviate some of the vacuum left by the cuts in imports from Venezuela.

In Latin America, the departure from power of an ally such as Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and the subsequent distance his predecessor Lenin Moreno has shown toward the island, together with the electoral defeat of the left in Chile, have continued to deepen the turn to the right of the region’s executives. The loss of the Plaza of the Revolution’s strategic allies, such as those in Brazil and Argentina, has made itself felt on the international stage.

Not even the first tests of Nauta Hogar, a web browsing service for Cuban homes, or the forecast of ending the year with 4.7 million foreign visitors, or the reduction of infant mortality to a new national record and the announcement of new migratory flexibilizations to start in January of 2018, have managed to dispel the shadows left by 2017.

In this complex panorama, 2018 begins for Cuba with several urgent needs to be resolved in the economic sphere and many uncertainties surrounding the transfer of power that will take place next April. Few dare to predict the course that the country will follow in the coming months, but almost everyone – both government officials and critics – agree that the year that just ended had been a “bitter” one for Cubans.

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