Op-Ed

Will it be another frustrating year?

HAVANA: Santeria followers take a printout of the annual letter from Afro-Cuban Santeria priests offering predictions for the new year.
HAVANA: Santeria followers take a printout of the annual letter from Afro-Cuban Santeria priests offering predictions for the new year. AP

HAVANA — They began to put the dummy together in the afternoon. An old shirt, a palm-tree hat and the dirty pants of a neighbor who repairs cars. It ended up with a sad face and some straw sticking out of the eye holes. A few minutes before the arrival of 2015, they set fire to it. Everybody laughed and danced around the dummy as it burned slowly.

“We’re burning to a crisp the bad things that happened to us in 2014,” said the pyre’s chief organizer, proudly. The flames lasted long enough so that many curious neighbors showed up and joined the hullaballoo.

Emptying pails of water out the balcony, carrying suitcases around the block or burning scarecrows, Cubans attempted to conjure a better year and leave behind the stumbles of the previous one.

A visa to emigrate, prosperity in a business, economic improvement, better housing, love and good health were the wishes most often expressed. Throughout the island hovered the most incredible hopes and predictions. For the sake of asking, people asked for the impossible.

How many of those dreams and hopes will become reality in the next several months? Many and very few, would be the enigmatic answer.

Those who keep pinning their hopes outside the island know that every passing day it will be more difficult to obtain a visa to emigrate. On the other hand, plunging into the Straits of Florida continues to be dangerous and uncertain. The fear that 2015 will see the end of the Cuban Adjustment Act has made many hasten their departure or opt for another destination.

However, despite the obstacles, in the next 12 months there will be a trend to join the exodus, unless an unexpected and miraculous change of course occurs that will allow Cubans to realize their personal and professional dreams here.

Exhausted by the economic straits, Cubans wait for the cost of the basic food basket to drop and the shortage of staples to end. Throughout 2014 they saw how food products rose significantly in price, while the promise of greater supplies was never fulfilled.

Now, they're hoping against hope that the recent announcement of a normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States will bring swift relief to their wallets and their dinner plates.

Among the owners of independent businesses, the prayers said are for the opening of a wholesale market, the lowering of taxes and the raising of bank credit. Self-employed entrepreneurs could constitute one of the sectors benefited the most by an expansion of imports from the United States, a greater access to communications technology and an increase in travel by Americans to the island.

At midnight on Dec. 31, the wishes of many of these small entrepreneurs turned also toward the neighbor to the north.

The government itself has established its priorities. The figure of Fidel Castro will be left for commemorations, panegyrics and yesteryear.

Raúl Castro will attempt to maintain an iron-clad political control and expand the satchels of economic autonomy, although under close control. He will try to take the greatest advantage of the relations with his former adversary, but each step he takes toward a rapprochement belies his own system.

The truth is that the official discourse has been left without a handle, as the conflict that nurtured its complaints, campaigns and slogans has disintegrated.

The dissident movement, on the other hand, finds itself facing one of the greatest challenges of its long-suffering trajectory. It must take advantage of every crack that opens, slip its demands into negotiations that heretofore have included only two governments, and prepare to pass from the heroic phase to the political stage.

The search for consensus becomes vital for the survival of the critical sector. Important steps forward have been taken in that direction, as four demands have been identified, around which a growing and representative number of activists has gathered. All that, under a repression that will not abate short-term and on a field still hostile to free association and free expression.

The youngest Cubans, those who were born during the Special Period [the early ’90s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union] and have grown up looking at illegal dish antennas and consuming the audiovisual contents of “the package,” are those who expect the most from 2015. Cosmopolitan and insatiable, they want more, much more.

All of them have projected their illusions, some very simple, others wildly surreal. But it remains to be seen if 2015 turns out to be another year of frustration or that long-hoped-for moment when dreams begin to come true.

Yoani Sánchez is a prominent Cuban blogger and founder of the online newspaper 14ymedio. This column was written exclusively for el Nuevo Herald.

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