19 January 2019
Fidel Castro (left) and his brother Raul are seen in this file picture taken during the seventh congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in Havana on April 19. Photo: Xinhua
Fidel Castro (left) and his brother Raul are seen in this file picture taken during the seventh congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in Havana on April 19. Photo: Xinhua

How Cuba outstripped China and Vietnam in reforms

The state funeral of Fidel Castro, founding father of the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC), will be held on Sunday in the southeastern city of Santiago.

Meanwhile, the Ladies in White, an organization founded by wives and daughters of jailed Cuban dissidents who had gone into exile in Miami, publicly celebrated Castro’s death, saying his passing marks the end of the reign of terror in the country.

Undoubtedly, Castro was a tyrant. Since 1959 he had been practicing Stalinist proletarian dictatorship, with him being the autocrat who had a firm grip on the military, the party and the government.

For 50 years the Cubans were deprived of their civil rights and the entire country was thrown into poverty.

It wasn’t until 2008 when Fidel Castro began to take a backseat due to poor health and handed over power to his brother Raul that Cuba started to undergo liberalization and economic reforms.

Perhaps one of the biggest achievements of Raul Castro was his reconciliation with the United States.

After US President Barack Obama paid a historic state visit to Cuba in March this year, the two countries began to re-establish diplomatic relations.

President Obama himself sees the reconciliation between Washington and Havana as one of the most remarkable legacies of his presidency.

But will the incoming administration of Donald Trump sustain Obama’s legacy and maintain stable relations with Cuba?

Will Raul Castro stay the course in reforming the country’s economy and easing off politically?

Cuba has already undergone remarkable changes since Raul Castro took power.

In merely eight years, Raul Castro’s Cuba has surpassed brother countries like China and Vietnam in certain aspects of economic and political reforms.

After 38 years of economic reforms, China has become the world’s second-largest economy with the most foreign reserves.

But Cuba, the latecomer in economic reforms, has turned out to be a lot more dynamic and energetic in its reform initiatives.

For example, Cuba has outstripped both China and Vietnam in education and health care reforms.

It has also made remarkable progress in terms of economic deregulation and facilitating a free market economy.

Cuba has also gone deeper in ideological and political reforms than China and Vietnam.

The disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the fall of the entire Eastern Bloc in the early ’90s served as a wake-up call for Cuba and provoked widespread concern and reflection within its leadership.

At the 4th National Congress of the CPC in 1991, the country began to embark on a full-scale de-Stalinization and downgrade the demigod status of Marx and Lenin.

By contrast, since 2012 China has witnessed a massive return to the Maoist track under President Xi Jinping, who is working aggressively to tighten his absolute control over the party and reinforcing his personal dictatorship.

His crackdown on civil society of unprecedented scale and his centralization of power indicate that China is undergoing an all-out regression to a Maoist and Stalinist dictatorship.

Under President Xi, only 7 percent of the members of the Central Committee were elected through competitive elections, as compared to 15 percent of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

Moreover, even Politburo membership in the Vietnamese Communist Party is now up for grabs through competitive elections.

In contrast, all the key positions of the Communist Party of China, including party secretary, president, chairman of the National People’s Congress and all Politburo members, are still filled through single-candidate elections.

This means that the average party members have no say whatsoever when it comes to choosing their leaders, let alone the general public.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec.1

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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