Why Vietnam and Not Cuba? / Dimas Castellano

Coffee production in Vietnam

In an article entitled Vietnam, a Country in Constant Doi Moi, published in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde on Sunday April 8, Niliam Vazquez Garcia stated that “the people feel it in the streets, in the prosperity of the family business, perhaps even in the air, the achievements of more than two decades of Doi Moi, a process that provides for the introduction of market logic in the economy, but with socialist orientation.”

She added that the Vietnamese “in a short space of time have become exporters of oil and other products as well as the second largest coffee producers in the world.” I join in the well-deserved recognition of this industrious and tenacious people, but I think it useful, along with the tribute, to promote reflection about why Vietnam can and Cuba cannot.

During the last of the wars of that country, ended in 1975 against the world’s largest military power, with the number of bombs dropped on its own territory three times higher than those used during the Second World War, 15% of its population perished or injured and 60% of the 15 thousand villages in the south were destroyed. As if that were not enough, they then had to face the economic blockade and cross-border attacks.

After the end of the war and the reunification of the nation, Vietnam started from scratch. The system of a planned economy, which extended from north to south, plunged the country into famine and hyperinflation.

Given the failure, the reformist Communist Party supported by younger cadres overcame the conservatives and, in 1986, proclaimed Doi Moi (renovation), under the theme “Economic reform, political stability,” and began by introducing market mechanisms, the autonomy of producers, the right of nationals to become entrepreneurs and the granting of land ownership to farmers.

Doi Moi, focused on developing the initiative, the interest and responsibility of producers, from the very beginning faced an economic crisis caused by the laziness, the bureaucracy and the enemies of change, which ended with the wholesale dismissal of the conservative Party cadres.

Then, upon the collapse of the socialist camp, the reformist trend continued the path of deepening and permanent renewal of the Communist Party cadres. The result was so clear that the United States in 1993 withdrew its opposition to the granting of loans, in 1994 discontinued the embargo, and in 1995 restored diplomatic relations.

In 2001, Vietnam became the second largest exporter of rice. To achieve this, besides the allocation of a further extension to this crop and technological changes, the determining factor was, without doubt, the political will of the rulers who placed the interests of the nation first and began, in fact, to make changes in everything that really needed to be changed: they generalized the market economy, defined multiple forms of ownership, eliminated the monopoly of state property and placed socialist planning second.

Thus, with Doi Moi, unlike Cuba, and focusing on internal changes, the economy managed to produce food for its 80 million inhabitants and to occupy second place in world grain exports; second place in the export of coffee (the President of the Council of State of Cuba acknowledged that Cubans, who taught the Vietnamese how to grow the aromatic grain, must buy their coffee abroad); first place in pepper exports; to which is added sales of oil, shoes, electronics and other products, while foreign investment reached tens of billions of dollars. These results allowed Vietnam to reduce poverty from 60% to 5% of its population.

Meanwhile in Cuba, which also has people who are industrious, intelligent and gifted with a high level of training, has lacked the political will to implement an economic model capable of arousing interest in production.

In 1986, when Vietnam applied Doi Moi, Cuba opted for the Correction of Errors and Negative Tendencies, a project, if I may it call that, aimed at blocking the influence of Perestroika, than beginning in the Soviet Union.

Then, in 1993, forced by circumstances, facing the effects of the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, Cuba implemented a small group of measures — limited and isolated — that three years later were paralyzed by the counter-reform initiated in 1996.

Similarly, but with the opposite results of Vietnamese rice production, facing the decline of sugar production in Cuba from more than 8 million tons in 1990 to just 3.5 million in 2001, the government announced the restructuring of the Sugar Industry and the Alvaro Reinoso Task, in order to produce six million tons. To meet that figure — which had been achieved in the country in 1948 — they closed 71 of the 156 sugar mills and redistributed 60% of the land used for cane plantations to other crops.

The result was the decline in the harvest in 2005 to 1.3 million tons (a figure that had been produced in the year 1907). Twelve years after that failure, last March 31, Vice President of the Council of Ministers, Marino Murillo stated that the Ministry of Agriculture “presents a financial and economic condition unfavorable for several years, impacting negatively on business management” and recognized “that have been insufficient actions and measures taken so far to reverse it.” [1]

The difference is obvious. The Cuban government remains committed to an obsolete and unworkable model, and so far refuses to have its own citizens included as true subjects of the changes. Still pending is reform of the current ownership structure, whose foundation has to be political pluralism and opportunity for participation.

The big difference with Vietnam is that the delay in undertaking the changes in Cuba has led to the structural crisis, making it impossible at this stage to limit the changes to some isolated aspects of the economy. Now, simultaneously, changes need to be made in the field of civil liberties; it is the only way that Cuba, like Vietnam, can do it.

1 Puig Meneses Yaima. Working with integrity on each problem. In the newspaperGranma April 5, 2012, p.3

Published in Spanish in Diario de Cuba.

April 27 2012