Meanwhile, Castro's tentative economic reforms are also contributing to the loss of control over the population. Together, the expansion of the private sector, the imposition of taxes, the distribution of land leases to farmers, and the authorization of cooperatives in businesses other than agriculture, are gradually reducing the state's influence in the daily life of Cubans.
Raúl may see these as a desperation move to jumpstart the Cuban economy, but one consequence will be the diminished ideological commitment of the people to a government that provides fewer and fewer subsidies and benefits. Every step the authorities take in the direction of greater flexibility is like pointing a loaded gun at their own temples.
A system based on keeping every tiny aspect of our national life under tight control cannot maintain itself when some of these bonds are loosened. Reform is the death of the status quo and maneuvers to guarantee financial survival by opening the system to private capital are a death sentence written in advance.
The year 2013 will be a decisive one in Cuba's move from economic centralism to the fragmentation of production, from absolute verticality to its dismantling. Those who cease to receive their salaries from a state institution and come to support their families through self-employment will undoubtedly gain more political autonomy.
Despite the best efforts of the political police, the opposition today is more energized than it has been since the so-called Black Spring of 2003 -- when 75 regime opponents were rounded up, most sentenced to long prison terms. Although 2012 closed with the unfortunate loss of Oswaldo Paya, the leading figure of the Christian Liberation Movement, other faces are beginning to gain prominence. The number of activists is increasing -- and they are bringing fresh, modern ideas to the struggle.
An emerging community of alternative bloggers and performance artists is blending social criticism into its creations, and increasingly bold musicians are using the lyrics of hip hop and reggaeton to narrate a reality far removed from the official discourse. Meanwhile, alternative information networks, including Twitter and other social networks via mobile phones, are helping to break the state's monopoly on opinion and to communicate the truth about what is happening on our island to the rest of the world.
The aging of the nomenklatura, the growing opposition, and the expansion of the private sector are not the only influences that will weaken the system in 2013. The worsening health of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez is a catalyst for collapse. In the absence of his great patron -- and provider of subsidized petroleum -- in Caracas, Raúl will have to speed up economic reforms even more quickly to spur growth, further weakening the Communist Party's authority. The emergence of their Venezuelan acolyte was a godsend to the Castros, who lost their original benefactor with the collapse of Soviet communism. But there doesn't appear to be another country on the horizon willing to shoulder the burden of 42,000 square miles and its 11 million inhabitants.
U.S. President Barack Obama will also have a part to play. If the United States finally lifts -- or softens -- its decades-long embargo, it may give the government a temporary financial respite. But on the other hand, such a move would also take away the Castro regime's favorite political excuse for its economic failures. The country's sad state could no longer be blamed on our neighbor to the north. It would be a hard ideological blow.