Cuba: Assessing 2022 and the Prospects for 2023

By Gustavo A Maranges and Bill Hackwell on December 27, 2022

Rescuers at the Saratoga Hotel tragedy. photo: Bill Hackwell

This year has been a defining year for Cuba. Let’s say it has been like the litmus test after two years of pandemic and important domestic changes. The economic measures implemented in 2021 designed to improve economic conditions did not reach its expectations in 2022, which remains the main concern of the island’s population.

In the political and social sphere, there were also several challenges, including the update of the Family and Penal Codes, as well as the beginning of the electoral process of electing a new government in March 2023. All this took place amid a changing and convulsive international scenario, marked by skyrocketing inflation that hammered underdeveloped countries like Cuba.

Given this reality, what has been the balance for a country where many decisions can be questioned, but never its capacity to reinvent itself and try again and again to move forward despite facing obstacles that, at first sight always seem daunting.

The year began with the war in Ukraine, which heavily impacted Cuba despite the geographical distance. Russia is one of the island’s main trading partners, so the Western sanctions hindered this commercial exchange while contributing to a dramatic slowdown of tourism. of the main tourist market at the time.

On the other hand, the price of food and fuel on the international market skyrocketed. The speculation hidden behind the mask of the war persistently harms the Cuban economy since we import most of the food and fuel we consume, especially those used in car transportation and small-scale electricity generation. It added stress for an economy shattered by the pandemic and struggling with the most comprehensive, far-reaching sanctions regime ever known: the U.S. blockade.

As a result, several sectors of the economy had to reduce their production, leaving the country unable to cap the domestic demand. As a matter of course, the situation worsened when the national thermoelectric system began to collapse due to lack of maintenance. Hence, people had to face long and persistent power cuts that fostered social discontent.

Having to cope with these chronic economic adversities unleashed a concerning migratory flow. According to statistics, 2022 has been the highest in the last 40 years. The figures are alarming and will hurt Cuba in the medium and long run, but the dangerous departures of many are not necessarily a defection of their country but represent a level of desperation based on fatigue. The corporate media has tried to portray it in a political framework as the failure of Cuba conveniently ignoring that the dramatic increase in the migratory flow is regional and international and not exclusive to Cuba or its socialist project. Much of this can be blamed on the neo liberal model centered in the US that dominates and squeezes everything out of the majority while a few become obscenely rich.

On top of this, Cuba was shocked in 2022 by three devastating events; the explosion of the Saratoga Hotel in Havana on May 6, the Matanzas supertanker explosion and fire on August 5, and Hurricane Ian, which swept Pinar del Rio Province for over 7 hours on September 27. Beyond the billions in economic losses, the most regrettable fact was the death of over 70 Cubans. While each one of these events was devastating the response of the  Cuban government and  people was extraordinary and with the solidarity of international friends, showed resilience and will to stand back up after each of these blows.

Those in Florida and Washington betting on destroying the socialist project have not wasted an opportunity to try and foster social chaos and economic breakdown.

Every hospital without medicines, the long lines to get basic stuff and food, every broken power plant, the enormous efforts to keep up the fuel and food supply, every life or death matter of ours was seen cynically as a window of opportunity for them. This goes beyond the limits of ideological differences to one of extreme inhumanity that festers inside the empire. How else could you describe such a policy that thrives off depriving others of the most elementary access to resources and normal commerce?

We can’t ignore the setbacks of the progressive forces in Latin America in 2022 but we cannot forget our hard fought victories either and they will persist over the designs of the United States and its faithful minions: the regional oligarchies because history is on our side.

The IX Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in June of this year was a clear example of this. Only the coordinated action of several leaders, among them Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Mexico), Xiomara Castro (Honduras), Ralph Gonsalves (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), and other Caribbean nations, could prevent the silence and isolation the United States tried to impose on Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela from even attending the dialogue.

In this sense, the electoral victories this year in Honduras, Colombia, and Brazil are an encouragement in the building of a strong leftist alliance in the region, which would help Cuba to overcome the obstacles imposed by the current international economic crisis.

While it is true that little good economic news has come to Cuba this year, the country took a big step forward, politically speaking. The enactment of the Family Code in October was a victory not just for the government, but for millions of Cubans who saw many of their demands settled by the law. It is a revolutionary step towards true equality in every sense of the word.

In the same way, the Criminal Code was passed. It brought benefits like the expansion of inmates’ rights and accessory penalties, the recognition of crimes on social media, and the strengthening of sanctions against corruption and for those who get funds from foreign agents to commit crimes.

The electoral calendar began with the election of representatives to the local governments. The process was held amid a difficult situation and with relatively low levels of participation. However, beyond the questions this could raise about governmental management, it served as a process to calibrate the social mood and correct the governmental agenda.

It has not been an easy year, not for Cuba or the region, but an objective analysis leads us to a positive balance. Today, thanks to the sacrifice of thousands of Cuban workers and international aid, the thermoelectric network has recovered, and power cuts have disappeared. On the other hand, the tourism sector, one of the country’s main hard currency income sources, is slowly taking off despite the incessant discrediting campaigns against it.

In line with this trend, the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) and other financial institutions forecast a minimum GDP growth of 3.5% and a slowdown in inflation, which will remain the main economic problem. On the political front, the most important event will be the March elections to renew the parliament and the government. It will be another massive exercise of democracy whose results will decide the strategy in how to advance in the economic recovery and strengthening of the socialist system.

A favorable regional context, such as the present one, can only help Cuba. The current correlation of forces inspires hope, especially after the results obtained in the summits of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Community of Caribbean States, and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP). No one can say what the future holds, but the only sure thing is the Cubans’ determined will to move forward.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – US