2018, without a crystal ball

The new year is already here. After a complex 2017, marked on an international level by economic tensions, political disputes, violence and natural disasters, 2018 is taking a peek under the sign of uncertainty.

The next 12 months will move, for better or worse, between the continuity of this scenario – Donald Trump in the White House, the war on terrorism, the social movements, the market’s ups and downs – and events that will shake the planet, foreseeable or unexpected events that will take up the headlines and will redesign the panorama.

However, a crystal ball is not needed to advance some events, especially for Cuba, where changes in the political leadership and the economy are expected.

These are some of the events that should mark 2018 in Cuba and the world.

Politics

– “Cuba will have a new president,” Raúl Castro confirmed in December during the Parliament sessions. The president-general will leave his post this year – in April and not in February, according to the recent rectification of the electoral schedule – and for the first time in decades the island will not be governed by one of the two Castro brothers. All sights are set on First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, which would entail a generational change in Cuba’s presidency. However, until now no one has been pointed out as a candidate for this succession.

– Elections everywhere. Not only will the island have a new president, several countries will also elect a new president in 2018. To not go very far, in Latin America one has to pay attention to the electoral processes in nations like Mexico, Brazil – where Lula is leading the polls although his participation still depends on the judges – and Venezuela, a crucial election for Nicolás Maduro and also for Cuba and its dependence on Venezuelan oil. In other continents, the news will fall on the presidential elections in Russia, with Putin on the way to reelection, Egypt and Ireland, and the partial elections in the United States, which will decide the next face of Congress and will suppose an acid test for Trump at half of his mandate.

– The Brexit enters its second stage. On the way to the definite divorce between the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU), the negotiations will have a crucial moment in 2018. This year the guidelines of the future relations must be decided, especially on controversial aspects like trade, emigration and security. Although the EU 27 member countries agreed to pass on to this second stage, not all of them coincide on what they will offer the United Kingdom and what they expect to get in exchange for the controversial separation.

Economy

– New regulations for private work in Cuba. It’s not the cornerstone of the Cuban economy but what is made official this year could serve as a compass for future advances or rollbacks. The new policy still doesn’t have a set date – the handing over of some permits is still temporarily suspended – but it was announced in the December parliamentary sessions. What is already known is that people can only have permits for private work by person, activities will grouped together in a single category and the non-agricultural and livestock cooperatives will be able to operate only in their provinces.

– Another tense year for the Cuban economy. Despite the officially forecasted 2 percent growth, with the crisis in Venezuela and the cooling of relations with the United States the Sword of Damocles will continue pending over Cuba. Attracting more foreign investment, increasing exports and maintaining tourism’s growth – which hopes to reach 5 million visitors – are among the aims of a year that should show the economic course of the new government.

– World growth in 2018, at least on a microeconomic level. Experts believe that this year that has just started will be another synchronized year, after what 2017 experienced. Consumption and investments in businesses will be among the aspects that will drive the increase, estimated at 3.6 percent by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). According to Christine Lagarde, director-general of the IMF, this means “returning to the mid-levels of the two decades that preceded the great financial crisis of 2007-2008.” The United States, China and the European Union will again be the protagonists, while India should become consolidated as an emerging power.

Sports

– PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. The South Korean sports event, which will take place February 9-25, is already a media event, more because of non-sports aspects than for the sports event. The possible participation of North Korea despite the militaristic tensions which have enveloped the Korean Peninsula comes together with the veto of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to the participation of Russia over the massive doping scandal and the permission given to Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag. In the competitions, the fight should again be between the traditional hosts of the games as well as the delegations from Norway, Canada, Germany and the United States.

– Russia’s World Soccer Championship. It will be difficult for any sports event to awaken so much passion and generate so much news. From mid-June to mid-July the world will take a pause dazzled by Messi, Cristiano, Neymar and company. The powerful Germany will seek to revalidate its crown while Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Portugal and France will try to defeat the Teutonic team. Belgium, with an already mature generation, could be a bugle call. Any other team that reaches the semifinals would be, at least a priori, a surprise.

– Barranquilla Central American Games. No other sports event will have greater importance in the next months for Cuba. The Colombian city will be the venue, July 19-August 3, of an out-and-out battle for the summit between the Cuban delegation and the hosts, not forgetting Mexico. The first step on the ladder to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in Barranquilla more than 400 tests will vie, for which until now there are already 368 Cubans classified. The hope is to surpass the 500 and retain the throne conquered since Panama 1970.

Culture

– Cuban culture in Washington. It will be for May 8-20 organized by the John F. Kennedy Center for Scenic Arts. The festival, called Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, will comprise half a hundred events and will have the participation of figures like Omara Portuondo and Los Van Van band. The Malpaso Dance Company, Argos Teatro, Aymée Nuviola and Aldo López-Gavilán will also be among the many artists convened. There will also be a display of Cuban cinema and outside the festival the National Ballet of Cuba will take “Don Quixote” and “Giselle” to the Kennedy Center.

– Havana International Book Fair. From February 1 to 11 the Cuban capital will host the 27th edition of an already traditional event in Cuba’s artistic and literary calendar. China will be the guest country and it will be dedicated to Eusebio Leal, National Prize for Social Sciences and Havana Historian. Once it ends in Havana, the fair will be extended to the rest of the Cuban provinces until it closes on May 13.

– 40 years of the Latin American Film Festival. Once again December will bring Latin American and international cinema to Havana’s screens. This should be a special edition for the event’s four decades, the first after the recent death of one of its instigators: Argentinian Fernando Birri. Although it is still soon to know which films and figures will be present in Havana, the festival will be one of the culminating moments of the 2018 cultural calendar in Cuba.

Cuba-U.S. relations

– The cooling continues. There are no signs that in 2018 bilateral relations will improve. The saga of the “acoustic attacks,” the new U.S. policy toward Cuba and its consequences, will pass from one year to the other and will continue tensing the rope between the two countries. The tendency of Trump’s first year could continue: less dialogue, maintaining the embargo, revision and revision of Obama’s rapprochement, provocative statements once in a while and a return to the pre-D17 rhetoric. Let’s hope we are wrong.

– Traveling to travel. Cubans are the principal victims of the reduction of the U.S. diplomatic personnel in Havana and the subsequent suspension of consular procedures. Those wanting to emigrate or travel to the United States will have to first travel abroad. Already by the close of December the Colombian consulate in Havana started contacting the Cubans who had programmed dates to request visas for the United States before the closing of the U.S. embassy, and also in the last month of 2017 it was known that the venue of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service in Mexico would assume the operations of the Cuban capital’s venue. In 2018 those movements will have to be followed closely.

– Less Americans travel to Cuba. The new regulations of the Trump administration, which forbid the people-to-people individual trips and support a greater control of the visits to the island, already had an impact at the close of 2017. However, the number of Americans who traveled to the island – especially with the tourist push of the first semester, before Hurricane Irma – surpassed throughout the year the half million and represented a notable growth in relation to 2016. But in upcoming months the reality should be another. Although neither the commercial flights nor the cruise trips have been banned by Trump, approaching the numbers of the year that has just ended seems very complicated and will have its impact on the island’s tourism – in the state-run as well as the private sector. Time will tell.

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