'China model' doesn't fit
Posted on Tue, Sep. 04, 2007
BY MAURICIO CLAVER-CARONE
It is incumbent upon the free nations of the Western hemisphere to
ensure the success of Cuba's democratic-reform movement.
The 21st century began with multiparty democracies in all but one of the
Western hemisphere's 35 nations. Cuba was the glaring exception. In the
2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, the United States unequivocally
affirmed its political and economic support for representative democracy
in this hemisphere. While U.S. policy toward Cuba predates that
covenant, its principles are consistent with it: U.S. political and
economic engagement with the Cuban dictatorship will follow Cuba's
release of political prisoners; respect for fundamental human rights, as
laid out in international accords; and unambiguous steps toward
democratic, political reform.
Since Fidel Castro's surgery last year and transfer of power to his
brother, Raúl, academics, U.S. policy analysts and exile organizations
have held myriad conferences trying to decipher the speeches and
statements of Raúl Castroand his palate for reform.
Simultaneously, U.S. multinational corporations, such as Caterpillar,
Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and the powerful trade and travel
associations, report spending millions to lobby the Bush administration
and Congress to lift trade restrictions and other sanctions. They argue
that Cuba now presents a ''unique opportunity'' for engagement. Their
rallying battle cry is: “China!''
They present the ''Chinese model'' of economic liberalization as the
next logical step — if not the ideal route — for Raúl Castro to take
in Cuba. What they fail, or refuse, to acknowledge is that the
international community sacrificed China's nascent democratic-reform
movement when it unconditionally embraced China's “economic
Following Mao Zedong's death in 1976, a wave of mostly political — not
economic — reform movements spread across China. The Democracy Wall
Movement, which began with people spontaneously posting signs demanding
political reform and democracy on a Beijing wall, spread quickly when
hundreds of thousands of students and activists took up the cause and
courageously pushed the limits of official tolerance with demands for
free expression, democratic processes and open criticisms of the
Communist Party. The movement culminated on June 4, 1989, in the
Tiananmen Square massacre.
The tepid response from the international community allowed aspirations
for democratic reform to be supplanted by the economic aspirations and
priorities of multinational corporations and their ''official'' Chinese
business partners. Today, the lure of China's $3 trillion economy
overshadows that country's dismal human-rights record and has served to
consolidate the ironclad, one-party rule.
The China model is music to Raúl Castro's ears. Fidel and Raúl flirted
with economic reforms in the 1990s after Cuba lost the Soviets' $6
billion annual subsidy. It was a politically turbulent time. Popular
discontent led thousands to join the 1994 anti-government riots –the
Maleconazo — and a coalition of more than 130 opposition groups from
throughout the island, formed. Both were brutally suppressed.
Economic reforms provided brief relief, but they were abandoned after
the European Union, Canada and Japan made new investments and long-term
loans. The lesson learned is simple: Without political reform that
brings an established rule of law, ''economic reform'' is, at best,
Bolstered by foreign investment, Castro's government tightened its
political grip and, ironically, strengthened its command of the economy.
Worse, Cubans were introduced to the nefarious practices of
''apartheid'' tourism, which bans them from using beaches, resorts, even
medical clinics reserved for foreign tourists, and to
''indentured-contracting,'' where the government pockets the difference
between the pittance it pays workers and the much-larger amounts foreign
companies pay the government to supply each worker.
This time — as suggested by Raúl Castro's July 26 speech — Cuba has
its eyes on a bigger prize: the United States. The cries to sweep away
the current U.S. policy's democratic conditions in order ''to engage'' a
Raúl Castro dictatorship in Cuba are loud. Will those cries drown out
those of democracy's imprisoned advocates in Cuba?
Courageous opposition leaders on the island such as Dr. Oscar Elías
Biscet and Jorge Luis García ''Antunez'' don't have corporate
megaphones, but they understand the value of political freedom: It's
Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in