It is Hard to Eat Black Beans With Chopsticks / Iván García

The Cuban generals converted into businessmen felt a morbid fascination with the Chinese model. It was always the “narrative” they shared with their followers on the island. But in 1968, Fidel Castro decided to play the Russian card. After diplomatic disagreements and an aggressive discourse, Havana broke with Peking and bet big on the line from Moscow.

Last night’s Maoist followers hung their heads. One of the fans had been Che Guevara. His death in Bolivia in October 1967, ended the political flirtation with the Chinese. In the civil war in Angola, quiet today, the Cuban soldiers who took part on this conflict for 15 years, supported the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) of Agostinho Neto, the Kremlin favorite, spraying with lead and killing the group of Holden Roberto, financed by China.

When, at the end of the seventies, the soldiers started to enter the corporate playground, with the creation of public corporations like Cubalse, CIMEX pr Gaviota, it was decided to experiment with new economic methods with these companies. The Japanese business model was taken as a guide.

Then Castro’s government wasn’t sympathetic to the direction taken by Deng Xiaoping in the 80’s. In the Cuban media and academic studies of the time, the economic opening of the Asian giant is referred to as “the Chinese treachery.”

When the Berlin wall fell and the USSR was dismantled, heads turned back toward China. The military entrepreneurs who supported the Chinese model laid low. Including speculation that Raul Castro himself is a fan of the strategy followed by the Chinese communists.

For his brother Fidel, the great problem of the Asian model is that it breaks with his public — and devastating — discourse against capitalist production and business formulas. And if they want to copy China, unfortunately, they have to introduce market economy reforms and the worst version of savage and exploitative capitalism that operated in the 19th century.

In addition, the political conditions stand. China could take that giant step, because the United States granted it most favored nation status in the late 70’s. Cuba does not have the consent of Washington. Quite the contrary. The northern neighbor has imposed a trade embargo and has sparked a political and diplomacy battle and a dirty war over the five decades of the Revolution.

With more than 1.3 billion potential consumers, the country is an attractive market for foreign investors. And what really has attracted the world’s capitalists to invest in China are the low costs because of the government’s intentional depreciation of the currency.

Violating every kind of principle and ethics, the Chinese government exploits its enormous working masses, paying poverty wages. In its factories the usual work day is more than twelve hours, with no right to the defense of a labor union and with few labor protections.

China has become a huge factory that denigrates human beings. In pursuit of economic development it has implemented the worst methods of capitalism which, added to the disastrous totalitarian process, has resulted in a two-headed monster, lacking any ideology. With so much internal control and enough money to start a sweeping advance through the world, with the idea of creating a universal Asian empire.

To the generals who run the Cuban economy, it is attractive to take some elements from the Chinese model, so they can maintain power even if there is an economic slump For this, it’s vital to get the embargo repealed and the European Union common position unlocked.

Apparently, this is a political bet on the future economy of the island. Pockets of market economy, with no political or democratic openings. Clearly, the world in this 21st century is different. There is a brutal crisis that discourages investments and open suspicion toward the regime in Havana, which has been branded a cheat by capitalist entrepreneurs.

Obviously, the Chinese model is far from ideal for Cuba. It’s more of the same. Raul Castro’s government can try it. But it’s hard to eat black beans with chopsticks.

November 11, 2010