Sunday, 17 April 2011
China And The New Cuba
Yesterday, just days after their celebration of the 50th anniversary of their victory over a CIA-backed amphibious invasion at the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Communist party held their first congress since 1997. At the congress, Raul Castro, brother of Fidel Castro who commanded the communist forces at the Bay of Pigs and ruled Cuba for 49 years until stepping down in 2008, announced a series of far-reaching political and economic reforms.
Anyone who knows the Chinese political system that has been in place since Deng Xiaoping's time will find the reforms very familiar. Most particularly, the limiting of the paramount leadership - both the president and the head of the Communist Party - to a maximum of two five-year terms announced by Castro, is the one reform which has ensued that China has not fallen into the kind of crypto-monarchical system that has afflicted North Korea. In the case of China this ten-year limit is not law but merely a matter of custom, but Raul Castro intends to go a step further and enshrine it in the Cuban constitution.
In other areas, though, Castro is not going as far as the Chinese, with ownership of property being limited to a single plot, and business ownership being limited to SMEs. Whilst Cuba enjoys a nominal per capita GDP significantly higher than China, and has seen reasonably high growth in recent years (see graph above, or here) it is uncertain whether these reforms, which still very much place the emphasis on the "state" part of the "state capitalism" formula, will be enough to ensure continued growth.
It is worth noting that Cuban nominal GDP per capita is roughly comparable to that of some other non-communist countries in the region. At at estimated* value of 5,200 US Dollars, Cuban GDP per capita in 2010 was roughly the same as that of the Dominican Republic, and higher than that of Jamaica (4,800 US Dollars). However, Cuban economic performance begins appears poor next to those countries in the region that have successfully developed tourism and resource-extraction industries, like Trinidad and Tobago (17,300 US Dollars) and the Bahamas (24,300 US Dollars).
That Castro should in some ways imitate the Chinese is not surprising. The Chinese have been the most successful at combining the Leninist political system with market reform, and, more importantly no doubt from the point of view of Castro and his comrades, have been very successful so far in "revolution proofing" their regime. This said, Cuba is not China, and the histories of its regional neighbours suggest that rather than Chinese-style state capitalism, a greater focus on tourism might pay off, but this would require a more liberal society than seems possible under the communists, and would require the lifting of at least some elements of the US embargo.
*All estimates taken from the CIA World Factbook nominal GDP figures for 2010.
[Picture: Raul Castro with Che Guevara, Cuba, 1958. Via Wikicommons]
Posted by Gilman Grundy at 04:02