Alberto N Jones
HAVANA TIMES — A month after having embarked on an unforgettable 20-day trip to Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam, I managed to react to the overwhelming experience of seeing so much progress, order, perspective and vision in a region, which is where the world seems to be heading.
Tiny Singapore, which has managed to earn itself the nickname of “Asian Tiger” within half a century, is a case the world needs to study, analyze and evaluate, with its political and ideological differences, wise moves and mistakes.
Just like Cuba, its independence and national sovereignty began in 1959. Barely 100 km2, without any natural resources and a population of 5.3 million people, 42% of whom are immigrants, it formed a federation with Malaysia which then disintegrated two years later due to different ideological, ethnic and religious problems.
Singapore continues to follow a free market economy policy based on foreign investment, funding, maritime shipping, tourism and health with strong education, social security, mass housing projects, discipline and respect for the environment, where violating this can be severely punished by law.
There’s no doubt about it, Singapore is a reference country within the region. Many researchers and analysts have concluded that Cuba could be the “Singapore” of the Caribbean, in spite of having experienced different political movements, ideology and economic policies and having been the victim of a hardline US-backed blockade and military attacks over the past half a century.
I won’t go into the great progress Thailand made with its industrial developments, sex and leisure businesses, or Hong Kong, the Asian financial giant.
However, no country within the region (and maybe even in the world) would be a better example of what back-breaking work, political vision, sacrifice and overcoming their hate and resentment towards China, Japan, France and the US who colonized, oppressed them and bled them dry, can do which has allowed this country to be the most vibrant and thriving within the region today.
Cuba and Vietnam have similar climates, a similar history and patriotic spirit. Marti spoke about these people over a hundred years ago and his vision espressed in prose is still valid today. “El Milagro Vietnamita” (The Vietnamese Miracle) published by Dr. Juan Triana Cordovi on OnCuba in November 2016, lays out the foundations and reasons of this impressive progress in an irrefutable way.
With the United States’ brutal invasion and the embarrasing fall of Saigon in 1975 over, it was important for me to visit the old presidential palace and the South Vietnamese puppet government’s bunker as it was to visit the room where the reunification of the country was signed in 1976, which led to Saigon being renamed Ho Chi Ming city.
The central government in Hanoi nationalized every company, it established agricultural collectivization and introduced restrictions which stifled progress and led to unprecedented hunger and a mass exodus on foot, by air and by sea who were then called “Vietnamese boat people”.
The 5th Communist Party Congress introduced radical changes, putting leaders over 60 years old in retirement, even national hero Vo Nguyen Giap and, later, the Party’s own Secretary General Le Duan and president Troung Chan was replaced by Nguyen Van Linh, who reduced the State’s participation in the country’s non-basic industries, freed agriculture, minimized taxes and regulations, encouraged foreign investment and promoted a capitalist market economy, which didn’t affect the socialist political nature of the country.
These and other economic and social reforms which were introduced have transformed Vietnam over the past 20 years into the fastest developing country in Asia with GDP growth at 8-9% per year and a lower level of poverty from 70% in 1980 to a shocking 10% today.
None of this is to say that social problems don’t still endure in Vietnam. Social inequality has increased, corruption continues even though it is severely punished and vast areas of the country still haven’t been cleared of unexploded bombs, which continue to result in painful deaths.
In spite of this, indescribable agricultural progress has converted Vietnam into the world’s second leading producer of rice, coffee, flowers and other areas, the abundance of food is unparalled, rivers and lakes are protected with bamboo, fish farming and sea transport is vast, while every ground floor apartment in city buildings has been converted into a business, giving jobs to millions of people, free from coercion and heavy taxes.
The urban development of cities such as Halang Bay, Da Nang, Ho Chi Ming and Hanoi, which could compete with any other capital in the world, transcend your imagination when you see thousands of skyscrapers with 50, 60, 80 and more floors. It was the greatest concentration of equipment and machinery that I have ever seen in my life, building highways, drawbridges, tunnels, railways, sea terminals, leisure centers, communities, tourism development etc., making it impossible to predict what this country will be in the next 20 years.
Cuba continues to discuss which path to take towards progress, while it takes two steps forward and one step backwards or zig-zags without finding a direction to go in. Vietnam is the most loyal, solid and exemplary ally that Cuba has in the whole world, that’s why Cuba was even willing to give its own blood, but it obstinately questions, rejects or ignores Vietnam’s resounding successes today.
The excessive politicization of the country painfully keeps Cuban media, analysts, politicians and thinkers obsessed about how much or what the United States says without caring if it’s Barack Obama or Donald Trump who are living in the White House.
Cuba needs to finally recognize the fact that the United States is an old history and it’s imperative that the media’s constant cacophany is silenced, which just wears away at the people and makes them numb by repeating the horrors that were committed against them. No media outlet or citizen in Vietnam talks about the past, they talk about a bright future instead.
It would be a great investment to send a multi-skilled delegation that represents every sector of the Cuban people to Vietnam for a week at a time throughout the year as a tourist so they can see it with their own two eyes, learn and correct our trail of mistakes.
Cuba doesn’t need to invent cold water! The historic and unyielding solidarity between Vietnam, China and Cuba only needs Cuba to relax some archaic regulations, which would allow the country to become the “Singapore of the Caribbean” in a short while and serve as a trampoline for other countries within the region, just as Singapore influenced progress made in Indonesia, Cambodia, the Phillipines and others.