If Vietnam Advanced Why Can’t Cuba?

By Fernando Ravsberg

Factory in Vietnam
Factory in Vietnam

HAVANA TIMES — Thanks to the President of Vietnam’s recent visit, the Cuban media has shed some light on this country´s socio-economic achievements. However, very little is said about how they have managed to achieve this, going beyond just some generic references to the Doi Moi and their reforms process.

Exports are growing at a rate of 17% per year. They sell telephones, computers, equipment and machines, textiles, seafood, rice and coffee. Ever since they began their reforms, the national GDP has increased by 7% per year on average.

And people’s lives have improved. Poverty was reduced to 12% of the population and they took 25 million people out of misery. They have a very low unemployment rate and Vietnam´s citizens’ incomes, which were around 15-20 USD a month [similar to today in Cuba], “now vary between $200 and $300.” Ninety percent of the population is literate and life expectancy stands at 72 years.

In spite of the cultural and geographical differences, it seems quite logical to look at ourselves in the mirror of Vietnam, given the fact that it is also a small country, with very few natural resources, organized following the socialist model and led by one political party.

The difference between us might be that when they decided to create the “Doi Moi”, they jumped in the deep end, while Cuba’s “modernization” advances along the beach with the slowness of somebody who is afraid to drown. Vietnam’s message is that without a change in mentality, there will be no progress.

Granma newspaper labeled Vietnam´s success a “miracle”. It seems to be a way out so that they don’t have to explain the fact that their progress was the result of access to thousands of foreign investors, of national private business being put in the foreground and of state-run companies’ being given autonomy.

In Cuba, foreign investments – which the government has classified as essential for development – are advancing at a tortoise’s pace. The “Mariel Special Development Zone” has only approved 19 companies in more than two years, while hundreds are still awaiting a response.

Vietnam was destroyed by the US and war damages were much greater than those provoked by the blockade against Cuba.
Vietnam was destroyed by the US and war damages were much greater than those provoked by the blockade against Cuba.

Vietnam accepted 2,700 foreign investments over two decades, they advanced with a rhythm of 270 per year on average, which is 28 times faster than the Mariel experiment. It’s not about miracles but about how efficiently decision-makers and those who implement economic policies work.

The Cuban government announces that cooperatives will be open and then they bring them to a halt. In the beginning of this year, Raul Castro said that small and medium size businesses should be authorized and we’re reaching December and not a single one has been approved, they haven’t even created the framework necessary to legalize them.

At the PCC Congress, Raul Castro recognized that legalizing such private businesses was a point that awoke controversy. The problem is that no socialist model has survived without small and medium-size private businesses, if we exclude North Korea of course.

While state-run companies have their hands tied behind their backs because decision-making and funds are entirely controlled centrally. This makes it a symbol of inefficiency in the eyes of the Cuban people, many of whom begin to believe that the only solution is privatization.

Some people watch every step the country makes in opening its economy with fear, which means that debates are never-ending. The Committee which drew out the theoretical base for labor reform had worked for over a year, and when they finally presented their 614 points, they were asked to make 600 changes.

And while decision-makers get themselves into a mess with theoretical debates, the nation continues to lose its greatest resource; tens of thousands of young trained professionals who leave the country because the Government pays them a pittance and doesn’t allow them to undertake their own projects.

I met a brilliant mathematician-computer expert who proposed some tools to improve our website. He didn´t want to emigrate, he tried to work for clients abroad from Cuba and they banned him from doing so. Now he lives in another country, where he lends his talent and earns his money.

Vietnamese farmers have reached high levels of productivity.
Vietnamese farmers have reached high levels of productivity.

If the Cuban government wants to be socialist, there are only two models left: that of China and Vietnam and the other one following North Korea’s example. The latter model was the one that broke away the USSR and its allies’ economies, including Cuba. Even Fidel Castro has publicly recognized the fact that this doesn’t work.

Now Vietnam is announcing a new project “to convert itself into an industrialized country geared towards modernity.” And it doesn’t seem to be a populist speech, when they have reached their current level of development after coming out of a war that had destroyed their nation.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, the only thing here that grows is the never-ending debate about the “ideological dangers” posed by the prospect of a private shoe factory, wholesale markets, and private work of professionals, cooperatives, economic de-centralization or monetary unification.

Cubans advised the Vietnamese to cultivate coffee and to breed tilapia. Today, they export both of these things and Cuba is forced to buy coffee abroad and to hand out imported chicken because they don’t have fish. Is it really that hard to choose a way forward?

13 thoughts on “If Vietnam Advanced Why Can’t Cuba?

  • Economic pressure? From where outside? From whom?

  • I dont know… Theres is going to be so much economic pressure from the outside… And you know in America, It’s moneyed interests that rule…

  • Don’t hold your breath Javier!

  • With a Trump presidency and a Republican Congress, the EMBARGO looks to be around for a while longer.

  • well see when the Blockade is lifted!

  • But will the Cuban People have true freedom or the end of the embargo only to lift the Castro’s to the level of international billionaires?

  • Like Prez-Elect Trump, the U.S. (or at least its many multi-national corporations, who are the real powers behind the government) holds grudges in perpetuity. Because the Cuban Revolution seized the lands of United Fruit and others, and the refineries of Esso, Sinclair, etc., it goes on paying the price, in the words of a hymn, “forever and ever!” This will only change either when the U.S. is successful in subverting the Cuban government, or when the Cuban government abandons the ideals of the Revolution, or when it is profitable for (formerly U.S., now multi-national) corporations to swallow their former losses in order to embrace potential future gains.

  • Moses, it wasn’t until the US lifted their economic embargo on Vietnam that they were then able to set their new economic course to prosperity. It has taken 21 years to achieve the economic success that Vietnam is now experiencing. When the economic embargo on Cuba is finally lifted, it’s reasonable to believe that Cuba too will rightfully share in that same success as well, and especially if modeling their economic recovery with the help of Vietnam’s tutorage. Cuba will have the benefit of Vietnam’s experience, but again, not until the normalization process with the US is completely fulfilled with the lifting of the economic embargo, just as it was for Vietnam in 1995 under the Clinton administration.

  • The US maintained an embargo against Vietnam for many years as well. There’s no excuse for Cuba other than its failed Castro leadership.

  • Ridiculous to blame 60 years of failure on the US when the Castro brothers have ruined the country for so many decades with their ideology and lack of administrative advancement.

  • Oh, and yeah, there’s the little fact that the US allows Vietnam to progress while the US has hampered Cuba every step of the way for 56 years.

  • One party rule, authorian governance is possible while still building a successful model. What is not possible is a centralized socialist model with control of all means of production. That road leads to failure.

  • Cuba has advanced in all fields tremendously …Now if you mean they need to advance more economically then I have one word for you,….. BLOCKADE!!!!!

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