Saturday, July 01, 2006

Fighting the Ghosts of the Past: Should American Policy Replay the 1950s in 21st Century Cuba

The logic of modern economic globalization, one of the most potent contributions of American thinking to world culture this past century, suggests that creating free and transparent markets with appropriate provisions for the protection of all actors in the economy would be the surest way to economic prosperity and democratic political governance. Our political as well as economic leaders spare no expense in broadcasting those notions to all of the world from every vantage point.

It comes as something of a surprise to read about renewed American plans for a transitional government in post-Castro Cuba. The 2006 Report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which in many ways repeats the approach of the 2004 Report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba provides an anachronistic perspective on American economic and foreign policy that are worth highlighting. The report suggests that on Castro's death, American advisers should be in place on the Island to help some hand selected group or other to achieve democratic governance through the power of American persuasion. Economic liberalization would follow. This is the sort of thinking that one would have thought had disappeared along with the Soviet Union. We all are now supposed to know that economic liberalization comes first and democratic governance follows almost naturally. But somewhere on the way to Cuba those ideas were lost.

But not entirely. It seems that, at least where Cuba is concerned, the great free market innovators are the representatives of the People's Republic of China. They have, over the course of almost a decade now, slowly begun to chip away at the Stalinist state structure of Cuban economics and help remodel the economic sector into something more compatible with global economic models. This transition has not been easy. Nor has it been very successful to date. But restructuring a half a century of Stalinist central planning without arousing the suspicions of Fidel Castro (who remains a committed Stalinist) and without disrupting social and political life on the Island has not been easy. It may not work. But it makes more sense than the sort of advisers restructuring government type planning that seems to be coming out of Washington these days. Rather than concentrating on cosmetics--the form of governance of a post-Castro Cuba-- it might make more sense for Washington to begin working with Cuban exile groups to plan for the creation of joint ventures and other economic partnerships with elements of the existing Cuban economic structure than to focus on formalist political change leaving the economy to fend for itself. The advisers that America should be sending should be academics from Puerto Rico with suggestions on a modern economics law and business leaders for the creation of effective economic collectives to compete successfully in the world economy. And the U.S. should permit its citizens to take a substantial position in the Cuban economy. That sort of intervention would demonstrate American commitment to free market global economics better than its 1950s style plans for political gestures in the form of interference with government. And the payoff, of course, is that government would change to meet the demands of the new economics.

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