Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cuba, 2013: The Year of Travel

There was a lot going on in Cuban affairs this year, what with the two-steps forward and one-step back rhythm of what I like to call Raúl Castro's economic mambo.

Perhaps the most noteworthy events were:

  • the roll out of non-agricultural cooperatives over the summer; 
  • the inauguration of 118 cyber-cafes open to the public (at very high prices) in June;
  • the expansion of the self-employment rolls along with an increase in the number of licensable occupations to 201 by September;
  • the death in Madrid of Cuba's leading independent economist Óscar Espinosa Chepe in September;
  • rising criticisms about the pace and depth of reforms, perhaps best exemplified by Robertico Carcassés' improvised musical protest (within a separate protest) demanding direct presidential elections, an end to the auto-bloqueo (self-embargo), greater access to information, an end to political demonization and polarization, a further liberalization of auto sales (which seems to have just taken place!), and the all-important legalization of marijuana;
  • continued political repression against out-of-the-closet, in-the-street dissidents with a notable increase in Raúl Castro's signature strategy of harassment, short-term detention, and mob attacks - culminating on December 10, which as fate would have it was both the International Day of Human Rights and the date scores of world leaders converged on Soweto, South Africa to celebrate the life and mourn the death of Nelson "Mandiba" Mandela;
  • some (so far) fruitless gestures and empty words aimed at mending fences and updating Cuba-US policies and improving our relationship - punctuated by a first-ever Raúl-Obama handshake at Mandela's memorial service in South Africa;     
  • a significant "law and order" shift that reigned in private 3D cinemas, arcades, door-to-door resellers of household goods, and resellers of imported clothing (the last of whom were permitted to operate until midnight tonight!); and
  • the first ever foreign travel of tens-of-thousands of Cubans, including nearly all the leading dissidents and bloggers. 
For my money, this last development - Cuba's migration reforms and their still-too-soon-to-know repercussions - has been the most important development; one that will inevitably lead to other intended and unintended developments...

So, as a tribute to all those who fought for the right to travel (more) freely from (and to) Cuba, and to all those who actually did travel in 2013, below I share a quick (and very long) list of all those Cubans who I had the pleasure of hearing and meeting (and in many cases hosting) in the US in 2013 - presented roughly in the order that they visited the US:

Benvenidos - que regresen pronto!

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Yoani Sánchez, Eliécer Ávila, Yasmín Portales Machado, Elaine Díaz Rodríguez, Yudivián Rodríguez Cruz, Armando Chaguaceda, Abel Sierra Madero, Nora Gámez, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Leonardo Calvo, Juan Antonio Madrazo, Rafel Campoamor, Roberto Viega, Lenier González, Antonio Rodiles, Alexis Jardines, Amelia Rodríguez, Veizant Boloy, Laritza Diversent, Karina Gálvez, Rosendo Romero, Yociel Marrero, Wendy Irepa, Ignacio Estrada, Raduel "Eskuadrón Patriota" Collazo Pedroso, Los Aldeanos (Aldo and El "B"), Obsesión (Mágia and Alexis), Omni-Zona Franca (David Escalona, Amaury Pacheco, and Luis Eligio Pérez), Julio César González Pagés, and Pavel Vidal and Yenly Machado. 

Note: A traveler's inclusion on the list above should not be taken to imply anything about their ideological leanings or agreement with my own pinko views - but I do consider everyone listed a friend and colleague.

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