Posted on Fri, Aug. 11, 2006
CUBA AND CHINA
Similarities and differences on power, economy
By OSCAR ESPINOSA CHEPE
HAVANA — After President Fidel Castro’s startling proclamation, in
which he announced his delicate state of health and the temporary
transfer of his duties to Raúl Castro, his prearranged substitute, a
series of possible scenarios for the future of Cuba has emerged.
One of the analyses more emphatically made is the possibility that, if
the president does not recover fully, his substitute at the helm of
Cuban society might promote, in the near future, economic reforms that
— as in China and Vietnam — will give political support to his
management by improving the currently low standard of living of the
Similarities have arisen between the two distant countries in recent
decades because they were ruled for years by totalitarian regimes and
dominated at the apex by personalities who concentrated in their hands
an absolutely absolute power.
• In China, after the disappearance of Mao Zedong, a process of economic
aperture began with great difficulty, a process that has brought real
benefits to the population, including impressive economic growth,
although many of the totalitarian features remain and the personality of
”The Great Helmsman” continues to hover over all. However, although
sometimes subtly criticized, Mao continues to be respected as the
historic leader of the revolution.
• In Cuba, something similar could happen. With the departure from power
of Fidel Castro, the man who has totally filled the island’s history in
47 years, a path similar — if not identical — to the Chinese road
Raúl Castro is a man lacking his brother’s charisma and political
stature but undoubtedly endowed with a pragmatic spirit and a sense of
organization that has been proven by his performance as armed forces
leader. He could choose to become a sort of Deng Xiaoping and promote
economic reforms with the objective of creating a political base.
It should be stressed that the legacy Raúl Castro inherits in economic
and social terms is terrible. In Cuba, there is an impressive
decapitalization of tangible assets, and social differences, among other
ills, contradict the revolution’s original objectives. All this would
happen within a very deteriorated political framework, in which the
powerful support of the people, present for a long time, has been
wearing out due to disappointment over continued failures and
These criteria can be corroborated by the statements that Raúl Castro
has been making for a while to the effect that Fidel Castro’s only true
substitute is the Communist Party — which might indicate a radical
change in the way to direct the country toward more-collective forms of
Nor can we forget some positions taken by the armed-forces minister
during various times of crisis, when Raúl Castro’s stance was regularly
characterized by flexibility and certain apertures to the market, with
an eye to preserving power.
We must not dismiss that, within the armed forces, there always have
existed innovative methods of action, different from those in the
civilian sector, that gave business leaders greater power to deal in an
increasing number of affairs. An effort was made to transfer that
mechanism to the whole of society via the Program for Entrepreneurial
Training in the mid-1990s, a set of measures that, while timid,
represented a step forward. As we all know, that came to a halt when a
decision was made to reverse the reforms that had been initiated. At
present, an inverse process of economic recentralization is in effect.
Another aspect where we can see similarities, and specific
particularities, is that both China and Cuba have diasporas abroad with
solid economic positions.
• China’s diaspora lives essentially in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the latter
an area China has incorporated into its territory while maintaining its
capitalistic economic and political system. Those territories today
represent robust sources of direct investment and technology, and, in a
way, have an indirect political influence on the mainland.
• Cuba, too, has large nuclei abroad, mainly in the United States, where
Cubans stand out for their industriousness and creative ability. They
represent a potential of singular magnitude that, as in the case of
China, could contribute notably to the island’s development with their
financial resources and, most important, with their know-how and
The economic reforms could be an anteroom to political reforms. There is
a reason why the more conservative elements within government have
always refused to apply the Chinese and Vietnamese experiences,
concealing from the people what has happened in those two nations.
The fact that economic reforms could be instituted would in no way limit
the efforts of the Cuban democratic movement toward liberty and an
unrestricted respect for human rights.
On the contrary, better conditions could be created for the struggle for
those priority objectives, in a climate that might contribute to relax
the tensions between Cuba and the United States. That climate would be a
determining element in the equation for achieving the society that most
people desire: one reconciled above all ideologies, without winners or
Oscar Espinosa Chepe is an economist and independent journalist in Cuba.