A look back at events that shaped Cuba

World Today

Members of the National Assembly attend a session to debate the draft of a new Constitution, at the Convention Palace in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. The draft will be submitted to a popular referendum on Feb. 24, 2019. Cuba’s government said Tuesday that language promoting the legalization of gay marriage will be removed from the draft after widespread popular rejection of the idea. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

2018 brought historic changes to Cuba – beginning with a new president. CGTN’s Luis Chirino reports from Havana.

Under a new government led by the first president not named Castro in nearly 60 years, Cubans hope for changes that will improve the country’s socialist system amid local and international challenges.

In April, Miguel Diaz-Canel, an electronics engineer by training, was sworn in as Cuba’s new president, succeeding former head of state Raul Castro. 

Most Cubans support a new generation of leaders, saying new blood is crucial for Cuba’s development.

“Having a younger person implies a more radical change, new thinking and new ideas which we Cubans and the country need to see,” Alexander Sanchez, a teacher, said.

Cuban officials say GDP for 2018 is set to settle at about 1.2 percent, well below the two percent goal set twelve months ago as well as below the 1.6 percent growth seen in 2017. Looking ahead-officials forecast growth of 1.5 percent for 2019. Government officials said economic growth will be fueled by initiatives to increase exports and foreign investment – as well improved performances in construction, agriculture and tourism sectors.

Cubans saw more setback in U.S.-Cuba relations during 2018. The U.S. sharply reduced its embassy staff in Havana, in response to alleged “health attacks” suffered by Americans, though Havana has denied any role in such incidents. 

Meanwhile, Cuba continued to deepen political and economic links with several allied nations including Russia, the Democratic Republic of Korea, and China.

In December, officials for Beijing were in Havana to sign a joint accord to strengthen economic cooperation in 2019. China is Cuba’s second largest trading partner with its products and services present across all economic and social sectors.

Cubans are also contributing to the new legal document that will guide Cuban life. A draft constitution, incorporating many changes promoted by the public during nationwide community meetings, has been approved by Parliament. It will be submitted to a national referendum in February.