After Fidel, What to Watch Out For in Cuba in 2017

(Telesur) – On Sunday Cuba celebrates the 57th anniversary of its triumphant 1959 Revolution, though it will be the first without its iconic leader, Fidel Castro, who passed away on Nov. 25 at the age of 90.

While the world enters a new year without Fidel, Cubans, in particular, will have to brace for a double-whammy, as they work to further Fidel’s legacy and the island’s socialist ideals while simultaneously fending off a Donald Trump presidency in the United States. These factors will bring both challenges and opportunities to the island, which continues thriving despite the U.S.’ illegal economic embargo.

While it surprised nobody when President Raul Castro recently stated the island will “never go toward capitalism, not now nor ever,” the coming year will be fraught with existential questions for the socialist nation. Beginning with Donald Trump…

The Trump Presidency

During his chaotic and highly offensive campaign trail, Donald Trump vowed to undo the detente between the U.S. and Cuba that began taking shape under U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. As president-elect, Trump has reiterated his promise to “terminate (the) deal” under the pretext of furthering “human rights” for Cubans.

Though it will not be easy to simply roll back all the changes that have occurred, Trump could certainly hinder progress between the two nations, including any chance at finally lifting the embargo.

While the island has certainly dealt with much more difficult foes in the political arena, Trump’s unpredictability could have untold economic consequences for the island, particularly if he closes the doors currently opened.

Nevertheless, his belligerence has only emboldened Cubans, both civilian and those in the government who’ve always been suspicious of Washington’s intentions.

As one Cuban told the Associated Press: “Trump’s not going to be able to get what he wants, another type of Cuba.”

Economic Impacts/Tourism

Raul recently announced that despite ending 2016 with a 0.9 percent decline in GDP, 2017 is projected to see moderate growth of 2 percent. Possible ways this will happen include the fixing of infrastructure, such as water and sewage treatment and waste management plants — major investment opportunities.

The detente with the U.S. has also helped in this regard, with U.S. businesses and tourists providing a boost to the island since the 2014 announcement. “Even as Obama spoke, an 80 percent surge in U.S. visitors was drenching state-run and private businesses with hundreds of millions of desperately needed dollars,” reported AP.

Added to the number of flights, hotels, cruises and other general tourist services offered, the economic prospect of ongoing relations is no small feat.

Meanwhile, a lack of Venezuelan oil due to the country’s own economic problems, caused in part due to the drop in global oil prices, will continue to affect the island. Exports to Cuba have dropped from 115,000 barrels daily in 2008 to 90,000 in recent years to 40,000 a day over the last few months. The 2017 budget expects a deficit of around 11.5 billion pesos, or 12 percent of the GDP.

Tourism is what is expected to hold it all together.

“I’ve never seen as many tourists as I have this year,” Magalys Pupo, a street-corner pastry vendor in Old Havana told AP. “They’re everywhere and they’re the income that we need in this country.”

Culture

Of course, an influx of tourists will also mean an influx of foreign customs and influences. The island has recently allowed some 2,000 people in Havana to access the Internet from their homes for the first time. As beneficial as this is, Cubans will have to remain vigilant to avoid the barrage of capitalist propaganda pouring in through their computers, televisions and, with increased tourism, even their streets.

Though Raul has rightfully come out in support of foreign investment, arguing it can indeed be used to advance socialism, an influx of U.S. companies will also mean an influx of U.S. influence, from clothing to entertainment. A few of the big names that have expressed an interest in Cuba are AT&T, Starwood Hotels and Marriot.

As the island opens itself up to all this foreign influence, efforts to further entrench people’s revolutionary way of thinking will be very difficult but important.

Human Development

This is where education and social welfare come in.

Education, to all Cubans – from taxi drivers to hotel staff to parents at home – is a key component of the revolution. The arts, in particular, are highly regarded for their role in “sustaining development and progress,” report AP.

Keeping true to the island’s revolutionary ideals, and despite the economic hardships it will no doubt confront, the government has announced that it will assign 51 percent of its 2017 Budget to health, education and social welfare.

Fostering partnerships between universities and international professional organizations will help usher in the theoretical and technical know-how to run its budding entrepreneurial sector, which includes small and medium-sized private businesses, as well as professional services.

Cuba’s high literacy rate, its globally recognized network of medical professionals and its proximity to the U.S. also translate into major growth potential in areas such as health or medical tourism, medical services and equipment, pharmaceuticals, and hospital partnerships.

Government

Last, though certainly not least, will be the changes that Cuba’s governing structure will face. Raul has announced he will hand over the reigns to a successor in 2018.

The expected candidate – one Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 56-year-old official – is a relative unknown to most people outside of Cuba and will have huge shoes to fill, particularly since he lacks the revolutionary experience and credentials of the Castro brothers.

The handing over of the presidency to a younger generation – part of the Party’s attempt to pump new blood and ideas into the political structure of the island – will be a landmark in modern Cuban history simply because the island has been ruled by the Castro brothers for such a long time,

While Diez-Canel is considered a staunch defender of the gains of the Cuban Revolution, as relations between the U.S. and Cuba continue to thaw reformists will also be looking to slither into power, which the Castro’s managed to keep at bay for 57 years.

Still, nobody should assume that the revolutionary ideas of the Cuban Revolution, which are so deeply entrenched into the fabric of society, will easily succumb to capitalism’s supposed “jewels.”

“It’s going to be a tough year,” Antenor Stevens, a 66-year-old retired public water specialist told AP. “We’re a people who’ve suffered a lot. We’ve felt a lot of need, but there’s still a revolutionary consciousness.”

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