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HAVANA, Dec 23 2010 (IPS) - From the time I was capable of reason I remember hearing this old refrain, full of optimism, commonly remarked in Cuba around Christmas: “A new year, a new life.” The expression is charged with unfulfilled desires, postponed goals, and possible hopes for the life that will begin with the new year -as if thinking about mere possibility was a way of getting closer to this “new life”, better and different.

For about twenty years, when the collapse of European socialism and the implosion of the USSR consigned Cuba to economic and political isolation, Cubans went through one of the most trying periods in their nation’s history. And although today we do not speak of a new “special period in times of peace” (as this brutal phase was officially baptised), daily life remains a constant challenge for almost the entire population of 11 million Cubans.

While it is certain that remittances sent by exiled relatives or jobs close to sources of hard currency (like tourism or positions in medicine, sports, etc., abroad) can alleviate economic tensions for a part of the population, it is also true that a majority of Cubans must resort to financial balancing acts to live with any comfort.

The crisis of the Cuban economic model, the inefficiency of production, the solution of (or intent to solve) problems with political formulas don’t come close to addressing the situation in which the country and its citizens now find themselves and the state of moral and physical deterioration in which an entire generation of Cubans was born and lived.

The year 2010 ends in the middle of a debate on the new way of life that will be implemented in 2011, when the proposals and discussions of today become the state policy, endorsed by the Congress of the Communist Party, which is scheduled for this April. Themes like the laying off of between 500,000 and 1.3 million state workers, the opening of new though heavily-taxed avenues of self-employment, decentralisation of the state, the elimination of large amounts of the government bureaucracy, or timid land reform indicate a major shake-up of the system implemented in Cuba to address the crisis of the 1990s.

And so are we approaching a new country? All indications, at least economic, indicate yes, and even when, as if often the case, things are not called by their real names (private property, for example), or when the implementation of new modes of investment or job creation are rather nebulous, or when many people begin to feel new and more intense labour, economic, and food pressures (if this is possible) than in previous years.

What many Cubans would like to know is whether in the new year, and the new life, things will be better for them. Because while a “perfecting of the Cuban economic model” is proposed, which might increase opportunities for social and financial advancement in one sector of the population, the majority of Cubans will be hard hit by the reduction of subsidies, the lack of jobs, the high cost of living, and the housing shortage with which they have lived and may continue to live in the new country set for delivery in the new year. And although the new is usually better than no change, or what has been proven to be inefficient, the good is not necessarily a direct consequence of this novelty.

At the moment, Cubans are living quite far away from the so-called “Christmas spirit”, waiting in long lines to buy a few extra pounds of rice and asking their neighbours if they know where to get some black beans to serve at a modest New Years dinner where they will dream of a new life. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Leonardo Padura Fuentes is a Cuban writer and journalist whose novels have been translated into more than fifteen languages. His most recent work is The Man Who Loved Dogs, featuring Leon Trotsky and his assassin Ramon Mercader as central characters.

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