Commentary: Cuba – Perestroika before Glasnost
Published on Wednesday, April 9, 2008
By Gilbert NMO Morris
In 1989, the then President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,
Mikhail Gorbachev, unleashed the forces of "Glasnost" or openness across
the communist world. The only society to resist him was in fact China,
whose encounter with Glasnost ended brutally at Tiananmen Square.
Lee Kuan Yew – The distinguished former Prime Minister of Singapore –
saw Mr Gorbachev when he visited the Far East on that tour in 89, and
told him, Perestroika (restructuring) should come before Glasnost
(openness). Mr Lee Kuan Yew was right then, and if Gorbachev had
followed that admonition, the regional map of the Soviet Union would
look very different today. Cuba – in spite of the sensible recent moves
to a more open society – should follow that advice.
Dr Gilbert NMO Morris is an economist & legal scholar who taught at
several American universities. He founded The Landfall Centre for
Finance, Trade & International Affairs, which gained international
prominence advising financial centres during the blacklisting. He is
Chairman of CAICOS Brothers LP & MDB International.
Raul Castro has shown that his approach to Cuban economic emergence will
be the "Chinese Model" of economic freedom and political discipline. He
has lifted bans on DVDs, new motorbikes, and crucially mobile
telephones. Readers of this space know well my view about the
availability of mobile telephones as a component bridge for the
information flow that is critical to an emerging economy. Business is
about content and confidence, both of which rely on communication in
real time. This will now be possible in Cuba, and will prove a lynchpin
of its new political and economic potential.
No free person can support the narrow confines of Cuban political life;
as has been the case for the recent four decades. At the same time, I
have maintained that Cuba has much to be proud of in the face of their
long retreat from the comforts and excesses of the modern world.
Think about it: in those decades, under an embargo enforced by the most
powerful economic and military force on earth, Cuba managed to build or
maintain dominant athletic teams festooned with Olympic Champions, a
global medical centre, a vibrant art culture and probably the best
education system in the Caribbean. Perhaps some reflection on Cuba's
tourism sector will provide perspective. Nine years ago, Cuba had nearly
no luxury hotel rooms. Today, Cuba has surpassed the Bahamas in stopover
tourists. And when cruise ships are allowed to dock there, Cuba will
almost immediately become the largest cruise market in the Americas.
Of the bans lifted recently, perhaps the most critical is the land
allowances; which will operate like a lowering of interest rates. There
Raul Castro's administration has permitted farmers to use – not in-use –
government land. Since in the Caribbean as a whole, and Cuba no less,
there is a land shortage when one compares land under cultivation with
population size, this should mean a net gain for Cuban farmers and
should lead to a stabilization of prices as food demand grows rapidly.
The land policy in Cuba in general is also critical because questions of
ownership have the potential to stir conflict ; which in turn, is likely
to produce the most significant continuing American agitation. The
reason is that after the Spanish American War in 1898 in which the
United States intervened – supposedly on the side of the Cubans –
American corporations laid claim to vast amounts of land in Cuba, which
became sources of contention, particularly since the land arrangements
were set up and maintained under a series of Cuban dictators, as brutal
as the Spanish; whom the Americans deposed.
As matters stand, there are multiple claims on Cuban lands, and too
rapid an opening of the inevitable political and economic freedoms will
leave little time for the hardening of the new regimes of ownership;
rightly held by ordinary Cubans.
For this reason, President Raul Castro should be commended for releasing
some steam off of the expectations of his people by lifting select bans.
However, he must proceed with caution to ensure the establishment of
Cuban institutions, to extend, manage and support, the new freedoms he
has been so wise as to extend.
This will mean the refurbishment of court systems for dispute
settlement, streamlined agencies for foreign investment, banking systems
for the protection of capital and public education to guide the
expectations of the Cuban people to avoid problems which emerged in
South Africa after Mandela's release or in Zimbabwe after independence.
There are two final points of note: Economically, Cuba has the best
chance of developing into a Caribbean economic powerhouse and igniting
the advancement of Caribbean manufacturing. Second, Cuba's advancement
and openness will initiate the "Spanishization" of the northern
Caribbean. Consider, if you doubt it, that Cuba is the country with the
largest potential to become a G-20 economy, (surpassing English speaking
CARICOM nations with a much longer head start) and Panama is the country
where one of the world's largest engineering projects is being
undertaken. Couple that with the emergence of Hispanics in America as a
political force, and one sees the confluence of a long dormant political
and economic force rising to its potential.