Could Cuba be Vietnam in the Caribbean?
Opinion: Could Cuba be Vietnam in the Caribbean?
Richard E Feinberg
Hanoi may have lessons for Havana
What might Cuba look like a decade or two from now, when its ageing
revolutionary leadership has faded from view? Consider the remarkable
economic success of Vietnam, once a highly centralised planned economy
as Cuba is today.
Vietnam has evolved into a hybrid system with a dynamic interplay
between a hefty public sector of state-owned enterprises, a vibrant and
expanding private entrepreneurial class and an influx of global brands:
the likes of Nike, Honda, Canon and Samsung employ millions of Vietnamese.
Vietnam’s surging economy is also well diversified, exporting rice, fish
and minerals, hosting tourists and participating in cross-border
manufacturing supply chains. Domestically, the construction and real
estate businesses — driven by foreign and domestic investors — are
booming, and efficient telecommunications empower the ambitious
Vietnamese middle classes to fixate on Facebook.
By the standards of developing countries, Vietnam’s big cities are
refreshingly people-friendly. Hanoi is proud of its greenery while Ho
Chi Minh City is attractively remodelling the banks of its winding
canals. Abundant affordable public housing prevents the shocking slums
that surround so many Asian and Latin American population centres.
Vietnamese eateries offer a healthy local diet of vegetables, fresh fish
and rice noodles, and locals drive fuel-efficient motorbikes.
But Vietnam has weaknesses. Corruption is rife. Inequality is glaring
and widening. People complain about poor-quality social services. And
many deeply resent the lack of political freedoms and the monopoly of
the Communist party.
So what can Cuba learn from Vietnam?
The government could relax the constraints it puts on entrepreneurs.
President Raúl Castro could transform his words of welcome to foreign
investment into rapid authorisations of tangible capital projects.
State-owned firms could partner with domestic and international businesses.
As Vietnam did, Cuba could quickly shift from being a large net importer
to a net exporter of agriculture and fisheries. It must allow farmers to
earn healthy profits, while creating distribution networks that supply
essential inputs and that market foodstuffs at home and abroad.
Cuba has the requisite resources — natural and human — and the location
to create a balanced economy. It has fertile soil. Capable scientists
have begun building a biotech cluster and the many computer engineers
await opportunities that will come with global interconnectedness. The
island could again become a shipping and logistics hub. And exotic Cuba
could draw a variety of tourists, offering urban culture, eco-resorts,
maritime sports, as well as traditional sun and surf.
If Cuban cities are to preserve their charm and liveability, urban
planners must be empowered to preserve public spaces and ensure
plentiful affordable housing and attractive public transport. Already,
the brilliant if slow-paced renewal of Havana’s Old City is a promising
Avoiding the pitfalls of corruption and inequality will be difficult.
But Cuba has advantages: a well-educated and politically aware middle
class will probably demand better governance once it has internet
connections and social media. With a western legal tradition, Cuba may
be more open to monitoring by corporate auditors and non-profit watchdogs.
As Cuba enlarges its narrow socialist wage differentials, inequalities
will grow. But socialist mores run deep and racial and gender divides
have narrowed. Debates about market efficiency and equality can be heard
in seminar rooms and on city streets. With its superior social services,
Cuba has another edge. But its universal education and healthcare
facilities have deteriorated and only a more vibrant economy can
generate the resources that high-quality services require.
Vietnam’s Communist party can survive in an authoritarian Asia, but can
a one-party state endure in the democratic Caribbean? Only time will
tell, but even in Vietnam, economic pluralism has opened space for a
more tolerant and evolving political system.
As it evolves into a more open and market-driven economy, Cuba can
improve upon Vietnam’s experience. Cubans can study Vietnam’s mixed and
diversified economy, while eschewing rampant corruption and offensive
inequalities and conserving impressive social achievements.
Richard E. Feinberg is professor of international political economy at
the University of California, San Diego, non-resident senior fellow at
the Brookings Institution and author of “Soft Landing in Cuba? Emerging
Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes”.
Source: Opinion: Could Cuba be Vietnam in the Caribbean? – FT.com –