Cuba and Vietnam: Where’s the U.S. Blockade?

The bust dedicated to the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh in a Cuban park being refurbished among general indifference. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerElías Amor Bravo, Economist, 22 April 2022 — Not even they can clarify it. In the morning, the Cuban communist leaders get tangled up in furious attacks on the United States over the blockade/embargo, blaming it for all the island’s economic problems, and, in the afternoon, they issue clear instructions to the official press to say the exact opposite.  See if it isn’t true; the article in in the State newspaper Granma titled “Vietnam, second Asian partner in the Major Antilles”. This is where the state that “in spite of the geographic distance, the commercial bilateral trade is going well, and now Vietnam has four projects in operation in Cuba with a capital value of 44 million dollars”. Not a word or mention of the blockade/embargo. Congratulations. Therefore we have to ask again, where is the blockade?

Let’s take it one step at a time. Maybe the Cuban communists don’t speak Spanish.  Don’t think so. So, perhaps it’s best to go to the definition of “blockade” in the Real Academia de la Lengua dictionary, and there blockade is defined as the action “to block”, and so, if we look for the definition of this verb, we find the following entries:

1. tr. Intercept, obstruct or close the way. This is clearly not what is happening.

2. tr. Prevent the normal operation of something. Unthinkable.

3. tr. Make difficult, or hinder the carrying out of a process. That’s really difficult.

4 tr. Hinder, paralyse a person’s mental faculties. Well, that’s beside the point.

5. tr. Carry out a military or naval operation to cut communications to a place, a port, a territory, or an army. Yes, this happened over three or four days when dozens of Soviet nuclear missiles arrived in Cuba in ships, and Kennedy gave the United States navy the order to prevent their passage and force them to turn around.

It can be seen that this image has stayed with us from the start of the ’60’s of the last century. Can the term “blockade” or “to block” really be applied to the present situation in Cuba? Difficult. And if not, ask the Vietnamese.

And if they don’t agree, what does the dictionary say about “embargo” or, “to seize”, which is the other hackneyed term used by the Cuban communists. This is more of a fine point.

1.m. Prohibition of trade and transport of arms and other equipment for use in war, decreed by a government. Nothing of the sort.

2. m. Retention, sequestration of assets, on the orders of a judge or competent authority. Nothing of the sort.

3. m. archaism. Indigestion, stomach upset. Hardly.

4.m. archaism. Damage, inconvenience. Well, this could mean anything.

To sum up, none of this seems to exist in Cuba at the moment, and the communist allusions to blockade and embargo are more a reverie about the past and a desideratum than anything else. The Vietnamese know it and don’t have the slightest problem in trading with the Cuban regine leaders. Nor do they care about the supposed threats. In the same way, 190 other countries in the world, including the United States, the target of the Cuban communist attacks, with whom it is possible to trade, so long as you pay in cash.

Granma points out in their article that Vietnam “has become  Cuba’s second largest Asian partner (obviously, China is the first), with the trade transfer between the two countries reaching 102 million dollars in 2020”. This information was made known in the seminar in Ho Chi Minh City to promote investment in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZED Mariel).

But, if we analyse the statistics, we need to lower these claims. In Quarter 1, there are presented the exports and imports between Cuba and Vietnam since 2015 and the result (in index numbers with 2015 as base = 100) is nothing to write home about. One can see an important decline from the levels achieved in 2018. The trade is not going well.

Quarter 1.- Trade between Cuba and Vietnam (index 100 = 2015)

Therefore, this seminar organised by the Ho Chi Minh City Center for Promotion of Trade and Investment and the office representative of the Cuban logistics operator Almacenes Universales S.A. offered Vietnamese and Cuban companies the opportunity to update the strategic changes and benefits of the Vietnam-Cuba Commercial Accord. That’s to say, “reset” the deal with absolute freedom and without limits. And all that in spite of the embargo/blockade and the COVID -19 pandemic.

An open and shut case. Even a news agency, Vietnam Plus, has stated regarding “this gathering in the Indochinese country has as its aim increased economic cooperation, in terms of investment, commerce, tourism and health between this Asian centre and Cuban regions”, some economic relations that as can be seen in Graphic 1, collapsed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Supported by what the state press calls “ties of friendship, brotherhood and mutual confidence between Vietnam and Cuba” they have arranged a series of projects and commercial accords which are very interesting for the island, because they permit the reinforcement of the eternal ideological message against the United States.

It is hard to believe that the Vietnamese, commercial partners with that country, with which they maintain excellent economic and financial relations, would allow themselves to be trapped in the Cuban communist verbiage. But, the fact is that there we have the results and see the business between the island and the Asian country on the increase.

This climate of economic relations has been preceded since last year by a series of political meetings between communist leaders of the two countries, leading some analysts to think that the Cuban leadership is contemplating an exit from the serious crisis by way of a Doi Moi (ed. note: programme of economic reforms implemented in Vietnam in 1986), which permitted Vietnam to get past its periods of hunger and convert itself into the emerging power that it is today.

It doesn’t seem as if that was to be the way forward. The Cuban and Vietnamese communists have spoken more about help, contributions, cooperation and solidity, than about structural changes in the economy. A shame.

And that was in spite of the fact that a spokesman for the Cuban regime said that “we are interested in continuing to study the experiences in Vietnam which could be useful for the updating of the Cuban economic and social model, including food security and the attraction of direct external investment”, precisely the type of “experience” of the least help to the Cuban economy in overcoming its backwardness.

The two countries, apparently, and according to official information, have established accords in distinct sectors of food, biotechnology, communications, tourism, and energy, but, without doubt, the most important element has been the help sent by Vietnam for combatting Covid-19, especially the supply of 18,000 tons of rice. Cuba, for its part, sent anti-Covid vaccines.

Translated by GH


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