2019 has been a year of challenges and victories for Cuba. On January 1, Cuba celebrates the 61st year of the anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. On January 1, 1958, Fidel Castro and the revolutionary army declared victory over the right-wing dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and began its march to Havana.
On the night of the 31st of December, Cubans will celebrate their identity, their hopes for the new year and Cuba’s sovereignty. On New Year’s Eve, Cubans will enjoy their favorite roasted pork, rice and beans (congris), salads, avocado, yuca, chicharitas, rum, wine or beers with family and friends. It’s a very festive occasion for the people and a favorite night of the year for all Cubans.
Taking a look back at the year 2019, it was of both challenges and successes. The hardening of U.S. sanctions against Cuba has created economic difficulties and hardship for the Cuban people. Americans found their rights to travel were hampered by these changes. Cruise lines, and passenger flights were limited. The American government also imposed cutbacks on the remittances they send to family living on the Island.
Americans may have lost the right to travel to Cuba on cruise ships but the British, the Europeans, the Chinese and the Russians are taking up the slack. The European cruise season launched with the grand arrival of the MS Hamburg to the Port of Havana in November. The British are coming also arriving on cruise ships. The Marella Discovery 2 will set sail from the United Kingdom in January with nearly 2,000 British passengers booked. Other cruise lines such as Celestyal Crystal, Sea Cloud Cruises, Sea Dream Yacht Club still provide cruises.
International tourist arrivals were reported at four million in November, slightly less than expected because of U.S. government restrictions on American travel. On the bright side however, regional reports show that Cuba still remains the third most popular destination in the Caribbean, following Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
Sadly, Cubans lost a few of their heroes this year with the passing of their Hero of the Republic, Harry Villegas Tamayo, and Cuba’s legendary Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, famous for bringing Cuban ballet to the forefront of the world’s stage.
Havana celebrated its 500th anniversary of the founding of the city with a spectacular fireworks display at El Morro fort and the Capitolio staged by a small Canadian company Fireworks FX Inc, from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia.
Cuba became the favorite destination of royalty in 2019 with the visits of the British Royal Couple and Spain’s King and Queen.
Miguel Diaz-Canel was elected in October securing 579 votes in his favor from the 580 deputies present. He is to serve as president for a term of four years until 2023.
The Island also elected its first prime minister since 1976 when former Ministry of Tourism Manuel Manuel Marrero Cruz was nominated for a five-year term as the country’s first prime minister.
The Cuban government led by President Diaz-Canel identified key priorities for the country in the coming year in Parliament, those being the continuing ideological battle for sovereignty, the attempts of the U.S .government to discredit the country and destroy its economy, the defense of the nation, and the economic challenges that lay ahead for the upcoming year.
Cuba is looking inward to boosting its economic potential which will allow it to raise the living standards of the people. The government will review everything needed to be implemented to boost productive forces. It will pursue a detailed analysis of what needs to be unblocked from the state and the private sector so that the Cuban economy becomes more balanced and dynamic.
There is tremendous support from the global community. At the United Nations 27th General Assembly (UNGA) this year, 187 countries voted against the U.S. blockade in the continued attempts to suffocate the economy. Only three states voted against the resolution and two countries, Colombia and Ukraine abstained from voting, “fence-sitting,” in abstention out of fear of U.S. retaliation or the loss of financial aid. The rightwing governments of Brazil and Israel joined the U.S. in its lonely vote against the resolution UN resolution, also for the same reasons.
Cuba continues to strengthen its relations with the world. In 2019, 136 high-level delegations, 25 heads of State or Government or Prime Ministers, 10 Vice-presidents or Deputy Prime Ministers and 19 Foreign Ministers visited the country. The Island’s President Diaz-Canel likewise made official visits, in turn, to Venezuela, Mexico, Ireland, Belarus, Russia, Argentina and attended the NAM and ACS Summits.
The Island maintains diplomatic relations with 197 nations and their institutions with 116 accredited embassies and six Representative Offices within international agencies.
In Halifax, Canada, the most important conference on Cuba outside of the country took place. The three-day event called “Cuban Revolution at 60,” brought together 40 Cuba scholars, policymakers and policy analysts from Cuba, the United Kingdom, Latin America, Europe, the United States and Canada, featured close to a dozen different panels focusing on key issues including the historical evolution of the Revolution, ongoing social and economic changes in Cuba, U.S.-Cuba relations, Cuba’s relations with the world, surviving climate change and envisioning Cuba’s ecological future.
On environment issues and sustainable development, Cuba continues to lead the way in first place as the most sustainably developed country in the world on the Sustainable Development Index (SDI). The Island outperforms many of the advanced countries of the world including the U.S., Britain and Canada, in spite of the punitive six-decades-long economic blockade. In view of the current political situation, this remains a tremendous achievement and success.
Many changes took place for Cubans. This year its citizens were able to open foreign currency accounts for the first time to use for the import and purchase of high demand consumer goods.
Special stores were opened across the Island for purchasing imported electronics and appliances at much lowered prices.
Internet access increased and Cubans and tourists received lower costs for this access. Etecsa announced a price reduction in the rates for Nauta Hogar.
Two of the most important conferences took place on the Island. The 37th edition of the International Fair of Havana (FIHAV 2019) in November brought together entrepreneurs and 14 official delegations were present from more than 50 countries at the FIHAV, demonstrating a continued agenda of investment and business with Cuba.
Unión Cuba-Petróleo (CUPET) ran its third successful conference for the oil and gas industry announcing changes related to the licensing round, initiating a system for a bidding process for investors in the exploration of hydrocarbons in Cuba.
If one door closes, another will open so the saying goes. China and Russia won the big business deals with Cuba in many of the main industry sectors. Dmitri Medvedev, Russia’s Prime Minister completed a two-day official visit to Cuba and returned to Moscow with eight signed legal agreements in air and rail transport, scientific-technical, customs, industrial sectors, and as well an agreement to strengthen scientific-technical and innovative cooperation.
China has fortified its relations in both the pharmaceutical and tourism sectors. An official visit by Cuba’s Emilio Lozada, Director General of the Bilateral Affairs department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba traveled to China, a sign of the expansion and strengthening of bilateral relations between the two nations. Chinese imports of Cuban products include pharmaceuticals, sugar, rum, tobacco, and seafood.
And in July, in a highly symbolic event representing the rebirth of Cuba’s brand new railway system, the first Chinese manufactured train made its departure from Havana to begin its 516 mile journey to Guantanamo.
Cuba completed the testing of an integrated digital platform which eases the entire foreign investment process. The new Ventanilla Unica del Comercio Exterior or the Single Window for Foreign Investment (VUINEX) will begin this January.
In September, Cuba won its first victory in the courts vs Helms Burton claimants in a Spanish court which ruled in favor of Meliá Hotels International.
Lacteos Mariel S.A. a new Italian company that manufactures dairy products such as yogurt, ice cream and Italian cheese signed a deal making it the 50th company to establish itself in the Special Development Zone (ZEDM) at the Port of Mariel.
Home construction in Cuba is on the rise with a reported 20,000 new homes built this year to fufill the need for housing for the population.
Hotel openings, renovations and new construction continued in 2019. Paseo y Malecon, CEIBA partnered with Spanish hotel giant Meliã Hotels in joint ventures for hotel projects in Trinidad, Varadero and Havana. SO/ Prado y Malecón Havana Paseo del Prado, Corona, Metropolitano, Gran Hotel opened up. Hotel renovations in progress and completed included the Habana Riviera, Habana Libre, the Deauville, Lincoln, Sevilla, Cohíba, Colina, Vedado, St. Johns, Neptuno Tritón and Copacabana.
Taking a look back at the year of 2019 for Cuba, it’s been a success despite the challenges imposed by the U.S. government. Without those difficulties, Cuba’s economy will blossom. The U.S. government has stated they will continue with their sanctions program. But the tourists will not stop coming. Cuban medicine, research & development and doctors are still required. All in all – over the year, foreign investment increased and bilateral relations were fortified. Cubans continue to celebrate the achievements of their Revolution. Here’s to a happy and successful new year for Cuba, its people and its partners.