Che Guevara and Chairman Mao during the Cuban-Argentine revolutionary's visit to China in 1964. A high-level delegation from the Communist Party of China was in Cuba last month.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos.
China and Cuba; Cuba and China
An important visit: Wu Guanzheng in Havana
By Manuel Alberto Ramy
While mobilizations and demonstrations took place all over the island to protest the release on bail of terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, a high-level mission from the Communist Party of China (CPCh) arrived in Havana on Thursday, April 19.
The delegation, presided by Wu Guanzheng, member of the Permanent Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPCh and a close adviser to President Hu Jintao, met that afternoon with José Ramón Machado Ventura, member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba (PB/CPC.)
Machado Ventura is the organizer of the CPC and Wu Guanzheng presides the Disciplinary Control Commission of the CPCh. Juan Almeida Bosque, a Comandante of the Revolution and a member of the PB/CPC, used to preside the Department of Party Control but, as I understand it, that department disappeared in the 1990s. Therefore, it is logical that Machado Ventura, who as CPC organizer supervises all the departments, was the right interlocutor for the visitor.
To the same degree that China has carried out deep reforms in the economic system, the Control Department has grown in importance, designed to watch and punish corruption within party ranks.
In Cuba, after the keynote speech given by Fidel Castro at the University of Havana in October 2005 where he warned that only the revolutionaries could destroy the revolution, a campaign against theft, corruption and misdirection of funds has been in effect throughout society. It is so thorough that Juan Carlos Robinson, a member of the PB/CPC, was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment last year for corruption.
The experience of the communist Chinese in this field is of great importance for the CPC and Cuban government, even though no substantial reforms in economic concepts have yet been carried out. It appears that Cuba has opted for a process of escalation that begins with maintaining institutionality and the productive sector without making profound changes. In other words, Havana has decided to take best advantage of the existing process and postpone any Cuban-style reform until results can be checked.
On the other hand, institutionality is invaluable, not only in the present but also with a look to the future. The period of almost nine months when Cuba's historic leader was absent is a clear sign of the importance of institutionality.
Meetings with Fidel and Raúl Castro
The international media have highlighted Wu Guanzheng's meeting with Fidel Castro, which is valid and extremely important.
First, because it was an informal meeting; from Castro's attire to the reading of the document that both governments were to sign, there was an attitude of mutual deference.
The meeting was also significant because of some novel aspects. Let us not forget that Castro is an essentially political individual and thoroughly knowledgeable about the value of the media.
The first aspect is that Castro has recovered remarkably and, as the photographs show, has gained much weight since previous meetings -- the most recent with Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez last month.
A second observation is that the signing of the Accord for Economic and Technical Cooperation and an amendment to the agreement on the Reciprocal Protection of Investments, was attended by Raúl Castro, Cuba's acting president. General Castro later held a long meeting with Wu Guanzheng.
According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, General Castro said "the island [...] is very anxious to learn from China its experiences in the subject of development, and will continue to strengthen exchanges and cooperations at all levels with the Asian country."
For his part, the Chinese leader, said he valued "the political stability and economic development shown by Cuba and I hope that the island will make even greater progress in search of a socialist cause with Cuban features."
The third possibility is that -- as I have been saying (and not just me) -- Fidel Castro's activities, independent from his official post, will be reduced to tasks of a strategic nature and the utmost importance. The dual purpose in this is to preserve his health as much as possible and not lose the wealth of extraordinary talent accumulated by this leader, who strides two centuries in the history of Cuba and the world.
Does this mean that Fidel will officially remain as the Chief of State while the government's day-to-day activities are managed by Raúl Castro? What's important is not the titles but the functions, the apportionment of tasks that will best contribute to the direction of the country and the CPC. This distribution of duties has been in effect since July 31, when Fidel Castro transferred his responsibilities to the First Vice President and Second Secretary of the CPC, Raúl Castro.
If this is so, Cuba would continue to engage in an internal political process of readjustment within the circles of power, so any formal distinction between the posts of Chief of State and Head of Government would be unimportant in the short run. Down the road, that situation could be formalized in one way or another. Perhaps this is the option chosen by Fidel.
Formal definitions notwithstanding, Cuba demonstrates a process that has begun within its structure and that should solidify in the near future. In this process, we find the perceptions of the principal actors in the CPC and government, the unfolding of the national reality at the level of the people -- how the people react to what I call "the emphasis on institutionality" and how they react as producers of goods and services -- and the international reality.
A besieged Cuba would see an increase in centralism and verticality of decisions, and would keep its economic model unchanged.
The role of China
China looms as the great economy of the century. Its lift-off has been impressive and the country has made reforms without losing political control. It has expanded its relations with all continents; the Great Wall is not a symbol of its policies. Beijing has signed multibillion-dollar economic and trade accords with South America.
At present, China is Cuba's second-largest commercial partner, surpassed only by Venezuela. Havana maintains much of its trade relations with China despite the fact that the Chinese are very strict when it comes with compliance with payment terms.
"If a contract says 'payment within 90 days,' we are bound to pay during that period," a Cuban specialist told me.
During this visit, Wu Guanzheng signed an Accord for Economic and Technical Cooperation and an amendment to the Accord on the Reciprocal Protection of Investments. China does business in the oil industry and biotechnology, among other industries.
Cuba's links with the People's Republic of China, both in party and government spheres, continue to strengthen. Out of nine members of the PB/CPCh, three have visited the island. The first was the First Secretary of the CPCh and President of the Republic, Hu Jintao, in 2004. Later, Luo Gan, a member of the Council of State and Secretary of the Committee on Political and Legislative Affairs of the CPCh, and now Wu Guanzheng, who delivered a letter from President Hu Jintao to Fidel Castro. Heads of various organizations within the CPCh also have visited Cuba.
Visits by high military chiefs of the People's Army of China are frequent and of great importance. We cannot forget that the armed forces of both countries, from their birth as guerrilla forces, originated their respective socialist states and party organizations.
The strengthening of relations between the armies and the parties also applies to the principal institutions of power on the island. It is not a question of penetration, but of links, of exchanges about the role those institutions have played in their respective societies, in different fields of endeavor.
Down the road, those experiences can shade the models of behavior on the island. I stress: shade, not replicate, because the economic, geographic and geopolitical realities in Cuba are different from those in China.
Perhaps China's perception of Cuba's reality is that Havana, under the leadership of the CPC and with the support of the Cuban Armed Forces, will make reforms appropriate to the circumstances. And the Chinese already have major interests on the island.
Manuel Alberto Ramy is Havana bureau chief for Radio Progreso Alternativa, and editor of Progreso Semanal, the Spanish-language version of Progreso Weekly.