In October Laura Pollan left us, in a dark hospital on a drizzly day, in a year, 2011, that had been born already battered. In the early months, the final prisoners of the Black Spring had been released and national and international headlines gave most of the credit to the Catholic Church and Spain’s Foreign Minister, downplaying the struggle of the Ladies in White, the pressure exerted from the street, Guillermo Fariñas’ hunger strike, and the wake of outrage left by the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. April, the cruelest month, brought us the Communist Party Congress focused only on economic issues, preferring the word “adjustments” to “reforms,” and consolidating the power of a blood heir to the Cuban throne.
August, with its dog days and its scarcities, wasn’t very different. “Where are the changes?” many asked themselves. It wasn’t until October that they began to trickle out. We could buy a used car, but not freely associate ourselves with a party nor express ourselves without punishment. Then came the most daring of Raul’s measures: it was possible to buy or sell a home, although the most modest of them necessitated the total wages of 45 years’ work. Something was moving in a society mummified for decades, but so slowly we despaired. In mid-December we learned that more than 66,000 Cubans had obtained the nationality of their grandparents, emigrants from the Asturias, the Canary Islands, Galicia… people kept escaping. The despair is not perceived in the streets as much as in the long lines at the consulates.
The area of land allowed to be given to farmers in usufruct grew, but the price of food grew almost as much. The press spoke of advances, but the reality showed stagnation. Private restaurants invaded every neighborhood with their menus of spicy dishes and their anxiety about whether they would be left to survive a while longer. The mute choir of the National Assembly confirmed that for 2012 the country would need much more money to import the foods that could well be produced on our own soil. And the expected travel reform was kept from us again, for the umpteenth time.
On Saint Sylvester night few homes displayed parties or music, at least in Havana. But I felt relief that the year was ending. Of 2011, with its advances overstated by propaganda and its setbacks silenced, once was enough.