By Aurelio Pedroso (Progreso Semanal)
HAVANA TIMES — For a great number of Cubans, Vietnam has been an example of resistance and courage in the face of foreign intervention throughout its history. Highlights include their victory against French colonialism (Battle of Dien Bien Phu) and their long military conflict against US imperialism where Cuban advisers took part under the Vietnamese premise to distance them as far as possible from war zones.
For other Cubans, much less though mind you, it´s worth noting that we taught them how to cultivate coffee and right now, they’re one of the leading countries in the world to export this crop.
And that was all the classes. Cuban authorities have insisted on the Cuban people knowing the absolute minimum about the Vietnamese “perestroika”, known as the Doi Moi, for one main reason: private property, a subject which has terrorized them during the time they’ve been “fraternal”, “close”, “friendly” and even “twinned”. For those of us who have been around a while, Fidel Castro´s phrase endures when he threatened that “for Vietnam, we’re willing to spill even our own blood.”
It’s worth remembering the report that the then Executive Secretary at the Council of Ministers, Carlos Lage, gave in the middle of a Parliamentary session where he referred to the changes that this country and China had made. He noted more or less that because China and Vietnam were very far away, there wasn’t any reason or motive to learn from and apply their experiences. This statement is debatable.
I think that if this declaration had been made thinking about our situation, the Cuban project, we find ourselves only 90 miles away from the Empire, and we should be worried and take action because of the distance that could separate our government from the people, which is the central concept of socialism, for both defense and an economic progress. Ears on the ground, like Raul Castro has said.
Even though it wasn’t by any means a cornerstone, at the time it began, Chinese and Vietnamese Communist militants took hold of “The Third Wave” (1979) by Alvin Toffler, who among other issues, confessed the advantages of small and medium-sized private companies as the driving force behind the national economy and development.
In the 1980s, I had a very close relationship with some Vietnamese colleagues who were based in Cuba. It was around that time, in 1986, when they began their reform process with the so-called Doi Moi. My colleagues back then explained this to me very simply as I was studying journalism and not economy. Even today, I still don’t regret the fact that the subjects that gave me the greatest headache were political economy in socialism, capitalism and Scientific Communism.
These colleagues used to tell us that when they reached rural areas, farmers used to openly express their joy about the benefits they’d received with regard to the water supply, basic tools and the ability to sell their harvests. They thanked the Communist Party for this, first and foremost.
Then, in the cities, those who had embraced the private sector, with small sums of money brought back from their time abroad, they also revealed their happiness and gratitude because it was also the Communist Party who contributed towards and encouraged these private companies as long as they complied with their contribution to their employees’ social security and their corresponding tax contribution. A market economy geared towards socialism.
Asian patience was lost with respect to businesses when high-ranking government and party officials came to Cuba and brought with them private businessmen on their same flight who were stunned by the amount of bureaucracy and how much time it takes to reach an agreement here.
Cubans are very restless on the one hand, while on the other, there´s a tortoise-like slowness to observe and approve businesses.
Recently, Granma newspaper, the voice for Cuban Communists, dedicated an entire page to Vietnam with a great deal of information about this country´s great awakening and development. In my opinion, just the heading, “The miracle of the Vietnamese economy”, wasn’t able to reflect the unbiased label because it’s not really about a “miracle”, but about something a bit more fitting: its leaders’ audacity and wisdom.