- Constitutional reform
After months of debates and controversies, 2019 should be the year in which Cuba approves its new Constitution. Or not.
The future Magna Carta – which does not foresee a change in the political system and follows the guidelines of the economic reforms of recent years – will be taken to a referendum on February 24, during which Cubans will decide with their vote whether to endorse or reject the text unanimously approved by the National Assembly on December 22, after a process of popular consultation involving almost 9 million Cubans and, for the first time, the emigre community.
In the referendum, the voters will answer a single question: “Do you ratify the new Constitution of the Republic?” If the “yes” wins, as expected, the island will have a new Law of Laws, instead of the one still in force, approved in 1976 and modified several times since then.
Its proclamation could be on April 10, following a request by the deputies and coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the approval of the first Cuban Magna Carta by the island’s independence fighters who were fighting to liberate the country from Spain.
If not ratified, however, a parenthesis of uncertainty would open, in which the next steps would not be entirely clear.
- The economy, again
2019 promises not to be an easy year for the hard-hit Cuban economy. President Miguel Díaz-Canel himself has said that “the economic battle” will continue being “the fundamental task and also the most complex” and that next year will be one of “organization,” which will prioritize paying debts more than new credits.
In tune, Minister of Economy and Planning Alejandro Gil called for “enhancing efficiency and productivity,” and affirmed there is potential to grow by “adjusting available resources,” avoiding greater foreign indebtedness.
Gil predicted a growth of 1.5%, higher than the 1.2% of 2018 – according to data from the Cuban government -, but to achieve it he said a better investment process, greater use of productive capacities and export diversification will be necessary. Not at all easy for an economy burdened by obstacles, laxness and inefficiencies, in addition to the effects of the U.S. embargo.
It will also be necessary to see how much the private sector can take off with its new regulations already in force, and what it is capable of contributing to the whole of the Cuban economy, despite endemic past problems such as the non-existence of a wholesale market and the impossibility of importing on a large scale.
- Relations with the U.S.: standby or rollback?
Although the agreement between Cuba and MLB and the signing of the Agricultural Act with an amendment on the Island gave a less tense closure to 2018, the year that begins does not precisely look hopeful.
Cuba is not a priority on the agenda of the current U.S. government, but when the issue comes up, it is not something to get excited about. In addition to maintaining the embargo and the hostility of his speech – with its consequent response by Havana -, the measures taken by Trump in his two years in the White House have put a stop the rapprochement promoted by Obama and Castro and have been a bucket of cold water for the promoters of engagement.
But in the coming months the scenario could get worse, at least according to the predictions of some analysts considering that 2019 is a pre-election year.
In search of votes in Florida, Trump could increase restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans, include more Cuban hotels and entities on his “black list,” and even, in a more somber scenario, again include Cuba on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, close down the embassy in Havana, currently almost paralyzed by the alleged attacks against U.S. diplomats – another issue to follow – and allow the coming into force of the third title of the Helms-Burton Act, which would make it possible to sue foreign companies with properties confiscated from Americans by the Cuban government.
The effect could reach the historic agreement between the Cuban Baseball Federation and the MLB, an agreement that Senator Marco Rubio and other politicians opposed to the rapprochement with the island have already threatened to torpedo.
- The 5 million tourists
Cuba was expecting them in 2018, but they did not arrive. After a first semester with a 6.5% drop, the year’s forecasts were reduced by the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), which deployed an intense campaign to reverse the situation in the following months and, above all, to take the expected leap in 2019.
Although last year’s official numbers have not been announced, the tentative figure placed the visitors to Cuba in 2018 at more than 4.7 million, a new record that once again had Canada as the main issuing market and cruises as a buoyant modality that multiplied arrivals – mainly to the ports of Havana, Santiago and Cienfuegos – and made it possible to circumvent the Trump government’s measures against travel to Cuba.
MINTUR’s plan for 2019 is ambitious: 5.1 million visitors, more than 5,000 new rooms throughout the island, more cruise trips, and the diversification of the Cuban product beyond “sun and beach,” with the promotion of nature, health and events tourism as emerging modalities, the latter mainly in Havana, which will celebrate the 500 years of its foundation and will host the island’s International Fair of the sector, FitCuba 2019.
But these aims are not enough. The growth in statistics must be accompanied by the coherence of another important element: income. Only then can tourism boast of being the driving force needed by the Cuban economy. We will see next December.
- Havana’s five centuries
They will be on November 16, 2019, following the tradition that commemorates the founding of the city in its current site and not in its first settlement, on the south coast of the island. With this, Havana will be the last of Cuba’s seven foundational townships to celebrate its half millennium.
The Cuban capital is already in countdown and since 2018 it launched a campaign led by the Office of the Historian and the government of the city, which includes constructive, social, artistic and communication actions throughout the year.
The restoration of buildings and emblematic streets, the holding of cultural events, and construction of new houses and hotels, are part of the program, which will have its climax point with the anniversary activities for which the visit of the King and Queen of Spain is even expected.
Although it is impossible to erase in a few months the many problems – constructive, sanitation, transport, lighting – accumulated by the city over the years, City of Havana Historian Eusebio Leal called for taking advantage of the anniversary’s momentum to think about the 500 years not as a goal but as an opportunity to continue working and “changing the face of Havana.”
Be it fulfilled or not, from now until November, many tongues will start wagging about the five centuries of the Cuban capital.