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Cuba’s development after the Congress

 

Editorial, Stabroek News

 

The approval by the recent Congress of the Cuban Communist Party of a continuation, and perhaps enhancement, of plans for redirection of the economy, has confirmed that President Raul Castro is committed to ending what is a continuing stasis in economic production and growth. What is not clear is whether the Cuban leadership has as yet come to a realization that the heavy hand of the Party itself is one of the major constraints to the persistent privatization (by whatever name called in Cuba) of economic activities, as it continues to mandate every, even minor, change and to leave little scope for individual innovation.

 

We are often told that the Cuban regime has, as its main model, the Chinese and Vietnamese and Cambodian models of what is really a strongly state-guided capitalism, to the extent in particular that the regimes of both countries have succeeded in maintaining the hegemony of their Communist Parties. Yet these regimes, and in particular the Chinese one, have opened their economies to extensive private investment from the major capitalist states, with China, in the process,  committing itself to membership of the major regulating institution of the capitalist world, the WTO, and formal interaction with the major capitalist economies as part, now, of the G20. Further, the Chinese conversion to interaction with the capitalist world as a means of jump-starting its economic growth, has also involved widespread interaction with American and European academic institutions, permitting extensive training of Chinese students in those institutions. Observers of the change of the Chinese economic model over the past thirty years will indeed have been surprised at the extent to which, in its objective of striving for persistent economic growth, the Communist Party of China  has committed itself to the position that the sine qua non of this, is a deep integration into what they would have called, until recently, the world capitalist system.

 

It is worthwhile noting that this commitment was made well before the collapse of the “world socialist system”, and indeed as far back as the mid-1970’s, following President Nixon’s surprise visit to Beijing; and following too, the enunciation of a new economic policy line by Deng Xiaoping, indicated by his pithy aphorism, “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”.

 

It seems fair to say, on the other hand, that the policy outcomes of the recent Cuban Congress do not yet indicate a conclusion approximating to that of the Chinese. A significant part of the Congress’ discussion has seemed to involve concentration on a limited freeing of small entrepreneurs in various fields, a line that has been fortified since Raul Castro replaced his brother.   The Cuban Government has often suggested that the American embargo has been the main instrument of Cuba’s economic difficulties, and there is some truth to this. And the US’s opening, under pressure from its agricultural commodity producing states, to Cuban purchases has indicated that the leadership well understands the significance of trading with its immediate geographical neighbour. But the extremely gradual opening of the economy by the Cuban leaders suggests that the commitment is more opportunistic than strategic, and is constrained by a persisting desire to control what Cuban citizens wish to have – to continue to control domestic demand from the centre. It is noteworthy that, in some measure like the Chinese and the other Asian states, the regime wishes to continue to constrain the flow of information, in spite of the general worldwide admission that the new technologies of communication are not susceptible to various traditional governmental controls. But the Cuban position can obviously not be compared with that of those states, given the geographical proximity of Havana to the United States. Already the access of the Cuban people to communication systems and gadgets has been substantially increased by the limited opening expanded by President Obama.

 

In one sense, the Cuban leadership has become more cognizant of the limits of popular control as, in its own efforts to normalize its relations with the countries of the European Union and others, it has conceded to extensive diplomacy with negotiators from the Roman Catholic church in Rome, to liberalise its approach to human rights as these are conceived by the EU. Here the influence of Spain, in particular, has been substantial, the former mother-country with a cultural orientation somewhat similar to that of Cuba, being interested  like other EU states, in exploring the possibilities of investment in Cuba. A not dissimilar situation also existed in relations with Canada which, particularly  in the 1990’s, made investments in the Cuban economy. But these were somewhat derailed by attempts by Canada’s Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, to raise issues relating to human rights. In the case of the EU and the Vatican however in this decade, there has been a more positive response by the Cubans, as the EU has continued to insist that in some real measure, there must be a complementarity between investment and the normalization of human rights.

 

Naturally, President Raul Castro will continue to persist in seeking the support of Hemispheric states, and in large measure over the last decade and more Cuba has had the empathy of the larger states like Brazil and Argentina, not to speak of the persistent cooperation of Venezuela. Presently there is a certain empathy of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela, with the initiatives of Raul Castro, a situation that has been further helped by the current rapprochement between Venezuela and Colombia, limiting the space somewhat for US pressure on Cuba.

 

But as the Chinese well understood in the 1980’s and after, it is the normalization of the domestic system, in terms of appropriate conditions for investment, that will determine the willingness to invest by other countries, and draw the United States into competition for worthwhile openings in Cuba itself. In the case of China too, it can be observed that the economic normalisation of the system was accompanied by a fairly decisive transition in the leadership by persons who were really not part of the old Mao Tse Tung system (Deng Xiaoping himself was internally exiled by Mao when he made his first push for policy reform). In that regard the removal of emerging players in the Cuban system over the last two years – symbolized by the fates of former Foreign Minister Roque and former Cabinet Secretary Carlos Lage, can hardly have been encouraging. Nor can the recent elevation of the veteran Jose Ramon Machado Ventura as No 2 in the system. President Raul Castro’s lament that the system still has not got sufficient operatives of the capability to take the reins of government, will hardly cut any ice, and suggests little in terms of decisive innovation, in the short term, for the reform process.