”Is it more difficult to produce a vaccine or pork?” The question, formulated by a well-known economist, captures one of the paradoxes of Cuba.
The island ends the year with a very positive balance in the containment of the pandemic: in recent weeks the contagion curve has flattened, to around 100 cases per day and a few dozen victims. This is the result of the successful vaccination campaign: 85% of Cubans received a complete series (three doses) of one of the two national serums, Abdala and Soberana. And more than 800,000 citizens, including this writer, have had a dose of reinforcement.
This success was recognized in the United States by the Journal of Public Health. Cuba, it writes, has provided a more coordinated and effective response than the US has. This situation has allowed, among other things, the return of students to school and the opening of the island to tourism.
In the same moment, however, pork, essential for the Cuban holiday menu, is difficult to find. And on the black market it has reached stellar prices, around 200 pesos a pound ($8 for 454 grams) when the average salary is around 4,900 pesos. A similar situation characterizes other basic necessities and forces the Cuban de a pie, the common citizen, to wait in long and exhausting daily queues. Or they resort to shops where you pay in Moneda libremente convertible (MLC), or in dollars.
A phase of hyperinflation has begun in Cuba (in the “parallel market,” inflation is estimated by the government at around 6,900%) which marked the crisis of the economic-currency reform program, the Tarea Ordenamiento, implemented at the beginning of the year to restore centrality to the moneda nacional, the peso, in the economy and in the lives of citizens.
Contrary to the intentions of the government, without first reorganizing the production facilities to increase supplies, the reform introduced in the middle of the pandemic has actually led to a further erosion of the purchasing capacity of Cuban wages. This is in part because the administration of Joe Biden has maintained, and indeed reinforced, the strangulation measures against the Cuban economy adopted by the former president Trump. One of the main, perhaps the greatest, causes of inflation is in fact the serious shortage of essential products and services.
This strong economic tension quickly affected Cuban society, under stress for years, mainly due to the criminal blockade, an economic, financial and commercial embargo unilaterally imposed by the United States for more than 60 years.
Washington (no matter which administration was in charge) believed on several occasions that its measures would pay off by causing hunger, discontent, rebellion and the end of the socialist government in Cuba. Their hopes have always been disappointed by the resilience of the Cuban people.
In the summer, however, the heavy effects of rising inflation led some of the best-known anti-Castro members of US Congress to believe that it was the right time. They smelled blood and increased pressure with a propaganda campaign against the government.
The wave of protests extended to all of Cuba on July 11 as a manifestation of the discontent of a population tried by the crisis, the repression implemented by the government with hundreds of arrests (even of minors), and accusations that the demonstrators were “in service of the United States.” Biden ultimately reinforced the embargo, hoping to win some votes in Florida in the upcoming midterm elections.
The blatant and continuing aggression of the US and by online media funded through various State Department bodies led the Communist Party and the Cuban government — represented by President and First Secretary Díaz-Canel — to a first, harsh, repressive reaction. They cracked down on the opposition group of the Archipelago platform, which had launched a protest on November 20 for the release of those arrested and for the defense of human rights on the island. For hundreds of those arrested on July 11, they faced severe penalties: up to 20 years for sedition, violation of public order and disobedience.
But in the autumn, a rectification policy has begun, not only of the Tarea Ordenamiento, but also of the vertical and bureaucratic system of both production (with greater autonomy for businesses and greater space for private individuals, both in the form of small and medium-sized industries and cooperatives) and relations with the population and civil society.
The leaders of the government and the party-state have engaged in visits and programs of socio-economic intervention in the most disadvantaged areas. It was decided to delegate to the municipalities, or to the government structure closest to the population, a series of previously centralized powers. Bills have been enacted, such as the new Family Code, which incorporates basic issues like greater defense of women and even marriage equality.
The end of the year therefore sees Cuba caught up in the economic-productive paradox mentioned at the beginning. But also divided between a repressive opposition policy — with very heavy sentences in trials that are not exactly guaranteed — and the continuation and deepening of a dialogue with civil society.
The new year could be decisive for the future of Cuban socialism.