BOGOTA — Cuba, in its effort to loosen the economy and move toward a partially free market system, may be borrowing a page from the history of another communist country, Vietnam.
Starting in 1986, Vietnam implemented a series of economic reforms known collectively as Doi Moi. The changes were inspired by the industrialization drive taking place at that time in Asia's so-called "Tiger" economies as well as by the liberalization of land ownership in China promoted in the 1970s by Deng Xiaoping.
Doi Moi did not prompt the Vietnamese communist party to end its rule, and the state retained control of strategic sectors of the economy. But the state did end its monopoly on international trade, allowed local government to form trading firms and increased participation by the private and cooperative sectors in the production of lower added-value goods.
Liberalization of the farming sector included distribution of part of the country's arable lands to a segment of the population as private owners, the elaboration of contracts between individuals, and formation of state cooperatives to manage certain stages of rural production. Farmers were allowed to retain any outstanding harvests beyond quotas owed to the state, which in turn provided them with incentives to sell the surplus in the country's embryonic internal market.
Ultimately, Doi Moi helped establish a socialist-oriented market economy, a term coined by the architect of reforms, Nguyen Van Linh, the communist party boss whose policies were compared to the Soviet Perestroika.
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Nguyen Van Linh, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam from 1986 to 1991 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
What's happening in Cuba right now is by no means a carbon copy of the Vietnamese experience. The similarities, nevertheless, are too evident to be ignored.
The so-called updating of the Cuban economic model, which President Raúl Castro began in 2009, includes a gradual transformation of the farming sector through the handover of lands for private use by individuals. So far Cuba has transferred 1.58 million hectares of land within this arrangment. A few years from now, Cuban farmers will likely be selling their excess produce in an agricultural market free of state control.
Raúl Castro does not expect economic liberalization to foster multi-party democracy. The Vietnamese experience is relevant in that sense as well. The Cuban government intends to keep the single-party structure, just as the Vietnamese communist party remains the dominant political force in its country.
In the case of Vietnam, the people in power were able to appear more pluralist and "legitimate" — and thus garner popular support —by establishing the Vietnamese Fatherland Front. Whether Cuba decides to follow that lesson as well remains to be seen.