HAVANA, Jan .10th 2022 is already experiencing its first days after an extremely difficult 2021 throughout the world and, in particular, in Cuba. The new year takes its first steps on the island amid a halo of uncertainty, after 12 months marked by COVID-19, the economic crisis, the increase in illegal migration and growing social unrest that led to the largest anti-government protests in decades, among other issues.
All of the above will surely condition the Cuban scenario in the period that is beginning. Even with the good wishes of the majority, the government’s optimistic forecasts and even the most favourable interpretations of the Letter of the Year, 2022 carries a heavy burden of difficulties, shortages and restrictions fueled by the recent impact of the pandemic, the U.S. embargo and some economic reforms that do not achieve — at least not yet — the takeoff expected by the authorities and the population in general.
Therefore, even with good news such as the significant advance in COVID-19 vaccination, the incipient awakening of tourism and the approval of more than a thousand MSMEs in the last months of 2021, it seems sensible not to have false expectations and avoid triumphalist speeches that are usually as harmful as the most catastrophic and negative.
The current Cuban context invites restraint and discernment, the most objective analysis possible to examine its complexities and perspectives for the year that has just begun and, also, a little more.
For the moment, and even when the future is always fickle and unpredictable, it does not seem necessary to scrutinize the future in a crystal ball to forecast some issues that should be the protagonists of Cuban events in 2022.
We are not talking about fortuitous events or sudden events ― which could also occur ― but rather aspects already anchored in the reality of the island, whose scope and ramifications must mark the year, for better or for worse, as unavoidable elements in today’s Cuba.
- Epidemiological situation due to the pandemic
After two years marking the nation’s life ― both with its dire consequences of disease, death and restrictions, as well as with the sacrificing work of those who have faced it and the massive immunization campaign ―, the coronavirus pandemic will continue to leave its mark in Cuba in 2022.
How much and how? Well, this will depend on how the country ― with its authorities, scientists, health professionals and the population in general ― is capable of handling the epidemiological scenario, and not only the domestic one but also the international one, which also affects the situation on the island.
For now, after a sustained and notable improvement in the final months of 2021, the new year has begun with an upsurge in infections, which has led to once again exceeding 1,000 daily cases and 3,000 active cases, and taking measures to try to stop this dangerous increase, reminiscent of the re-outbreak that started 12 months ago.
The advantage now is that more than 85% of Cubans have received the complete vaccination scheme and more than 2 million booster doses have already been administered, although the detection of the highly contagious Omicron variant in almost all provinces makes it necessary to not lower the guard to avoid another pandemic peak like the one suffered the previous year.
- The economy
It is a fundamental issue, both for the dwindling state coffers and for the pockets and tables of Cubans, who have been hit hard by a crisis deepened by the pandemic, U.S. sanctions, and internal difficulties and inefficiencies.
The lack of basic products, the excessive increase in prices and inflation, and obstacles and distortions in government reforms are some of the problems inherited from the previous year when the GDP was below expectations and the monetary reorganization did not yield the expected results.
Faced with this complex panorama, also seasoned by the scarcity of foreign exchange and high international debt, the control of COVID-19 on the island is key to achieving the longed-for economic reactivation, as well as boosting food production, tourism, the biopharmaceutical industry and other priority sectors for the country.
Also, key is further enhancing the autonomy and efficiency of the state enterprise and the role of the private and cooperative sector and correcting the errors and obstacles that persist in the government’s economic policies.
Of course, saying it is easy; the difficult thing is to put it into practice successfully, and 2022, the year in which the authorities foresee a growth of 4%, will be a peremptory testing ground in this direction.
- Recognition by WHO of Cuban vaccines
2022 could bring the long-awaited recognition by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the Cuban COVID-19 vaccines, the first created and produced in Latin America and which have been the support of the wide and successful immunization campaign carried out on the island.
Although the contacts between both parties began months ago, the process is still in its initial stage and, as reported days ago by the EFE news agency, the WHO is currently “waiting for the sending of information on the strategy and schedule” documentation by Cuba.
The Cuban authorities, for their part, have reiterated their interest for the drugs to get the support of the international organization, with which they assure they maintain a “fluid exchange,” and have said that, after the opening of a modern production plant in the Mariel Special Development Zone, they are “adapting” the necessary documents and that the progress of this process depends on the island itself.
Meanwhile, Cuban immunogens have already received approval in several countries, amid controversy, praise and criticism ― in many cases motivated by political approaches ― but the WHO’s endorsement would undoubtedly support their greater recognition and commercialization.
- The Family Code
The Cuban National Assembly must validate a score of laws in 2022, according to the legislative schedule updated in its concluding sessions last year. Some of these regulations are, by all accounts, as important in the Cuban legal and socio-economic framework as the Criminal Code, the Tax Law, the Enterprise Law, the Housing Law, the Public Health Law and the Law on Attention to the Population, but none has generated the interest and expectations of the new Family Code which, moreover, will be the only one to be taken to a referendum for its final approval.
After the drafting of 23 versions and consultations with experts and organizations, the draft was finally endorsed by the Assembly and will be taken to popular consultation between the months of February and April, for its final re-drafting as a step prior to the referendum.
Defended by the authorities and the official media for its modern, inclusive and plural nature, the Code contains more than 450 articles and has been the center of controversy for opening the door to same-sex marriage ― with the evangelical churches and the LGTBIQ+ community at the extremes of the debate ―, although it goes much further to address other relevant aspects related to the different types of family, the well-being of children, grandparents, vulnerable people, adoption, de facto unions, family violence and conflict resolution, among other topics.
- Civil society’s articulation
Cuban civil society, and in particular that articulated outside the government, has gained greater visibility and prominence in recent years and 2022 could mark a new chapter in its empowerment and contribution to national life. Causes such as the fight against gender-based violence, against discrimination based on sexual orientation and skin colour, in favour of animal welfare and support for people affected by natural phenomena and COVID-19, have been the banners of an articulation that gained more political overtones last year with the anti-government protests and calls.
With social networks as an important associative and communication space ― even with the risks, suspicions and controversies that the networks generate ―, these and other movements should maintain their growing activism in a nation that is increasingly connected and with a social temperature conditioned by the pandemic, the economic crisis and the authorities’ handling of that temperature itself — expressed in events such as the trials of protesters in the July protests and actions in vulnerable communities — and the pressing problems the country is facing.
In addition, it will have to deal with the shadow of external support, especially from the United States, emphasized by the official discourse, and with internal obstacles to its work.