In the afternoon they started to assemble a doll. An old shirt, a straw hat and the dirty pants of a neighbor who repairs cars. In the end, it had a sad face and some straw sticking out through the eye holes. A few minutes before the arrival of 2015, they set it on fire. Everyone laughed and danced around the slowly-burning puppet. “We are scorching the bad that happened to us in 2014,” the principal organizer of the pyre said smugly. The flames lasted long enough for the many curious to arrive and join the hubbub.
With buckets of water thrown from the balconies, suitcases for a walk around the block, or a burning scarecrow, Cubans try to conjure a better year and leave behind the setbacks of the previous one. A visa to emigrate, prosperity in business, economic development, better housing, love and good health, were the most requested desires. Above all, the Island gravitated to the most incredible hopes and predictions. They asked, and they even asked for the impossible. How many of these dreams and illusions can come true in the coming months? Many and very few, would be the enigmatic response.
Those who continue to place their hopes outside the Island, know that with every day that passes it will be harder to get a visa to emigrate. On the other hand, launching yourself on the Florida Straits continues to be dangerous and uncertain. The fear that 2015 will see the end of the Cuban Adjustment Act has made many rush their departure or choose another destination. However, despite the obstacles, in the coming 12 months the exodus trend will continue, unless an unexpected and miraculous turn of events allows Cubans to realize their personal and professional dreams here at home.
Exhausted by the economic hardships, Cubans wait for the basic market basket to get cheaper and the shortages to end. Throughout 2014 they saw the price of food increase significantly, and the promises of better supplies never materialize. Now, they hang all their hopes on the recently announced normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States bringing a quick improvement to their pockets and their plates.
Self-employed business owners focus their prayers on the opening of wholesale markets, lowering of taxes, and the ability to get bank loans. They could be one of the sectors most benefitted by the expansion of imports from the United States, better access to telecommunications technology, and the increase in Americans traveling to the Island. At midnight on 31 December, the desires of many of these small entrepreneurs, as well, focus on the neighbor to the north.
The government itself has also established priorities. The figure of Fidel Castro will be there for commemorations, panegyrics and yesterday. Raul Castro will try to maintain iron political control while expanding the pockets of economic autonomy, although in a very controlled fashion. He will try to get the most out of relations with his old adversary, but every step closer negates his own system. It’s clear that the official discourse is left without much to hold onto, the unraveling of the conflict that nurtured his complaints, campaigns and slogans.
The dissent, meanwhile, is facing one of the greatest challenges of its long-suffering trajectory. It must take advantage of every crack that opens, finding space for its demands in some negotiations that so far have included only the two governments, and preparing itself to move from the heroic phase to the political phase. The search for consensus will become vital to the survival of the critical sector. Important steps have been taken in this direction with the identification of four demands around which a growing and representative number of activists have come together. All this under a repression that will not ease in the short-term, and in a terrain still adverse to the exercise of free association and free expression.
The youngest, those who were born during the Special Period and who have grown up watching shows off the illegal satellite dishes and consuming the audiovisuals now arriving in the “ packets,” are those with the greatest expectations for 2015. Cosmopolitan and insatiable, they want more, much more. They dream that this year they will finally become internauts with access to the great World Wide Web from their own homes. They are anxious to interact with the world without restrictions, to be up-to-date, form associations based on their affinities, organize chats with people at the far reaches of the planet, and participate in legal videogame tournaments. In short, they want to behave as citizens of the twenty-first century.
All of them have projected their hopes, some more simple, and others truly surreal. But it remains to be seen if 2015 will be another year of frustrations or this longed-for moment when dreams begin to be realized.