This could be the next stage in the Castro family’s long quest to build a new Cuba. The WSJ reports:
Cuban President Raúl Castro is looking to strengthen the country’s economic ties to Beijing as it moves to liberalize its economy somewhat and limit its energy dependence on Venezuela, whose leader is battling cancer and faces a tough election at home.Mr. Castro landed in Beijing on Wednesday to meet with China’s top leaders before heading out to Vietnam on Saturday, touring onetime Communist fellow travelers that have revamped their economies. On Thursday, Cuban representatives signed economic, technology and agricultural agreements with Chinese officials, though few specifics were disclosed.“Currently relations are maturing with each passing day,” Mr. Castro said Thursday in an appearance with China President Hu Jintao. “The relationship has passed the test of time.”
While we’re limited in what we can see from the outside looking in, Raúl has always seemed more interested than his brother in holding on to power by Chinese style economic reforms. With the Cuban leadership worried that Hugo Chavez may die or lose the election in Venezuela, and with Venezuela’s cash reserves shrinking as oil prices fall and the home economy gets worse, China increasingly looks like the only show in town.For China, an alliance with Cuba might make sense. The U.S. works with that annoying little island just east of China, Taiwan; China can return the favor by working with the annoying little island off America’s coast. Cuba is unlikely to be much of a moneymaking proposition for China; the US embargo would make the country a poor choice for an export platform. But Cuba is small and, from a Chinese point of view, this might be a client that is worth the cost.For some years, there’s been a perception on and off the island that Raúl sees controlled economic reform as a way to entrench loyalists in power as Cuban socialism gradually winds down. The army played a big role in developing Cuba’s profitable tourist trade; why not look for ways that other regime loyalists could consolidate their position while strengthening their hold on power. China is a pretty good model if that is what you want to do, and Raúl has long been an admirer of China’s economy. (His brother has been less enthusiastic, but it may be that as the Chavez link weakens even Fidel is beginning to warm toward a Chinese development style.)Looking at the world today, there is only one country and one policy path that could keep the Castro supporters in power as the two brothers prepare to meet Karl Marx in the great party congress in the sky. The road to a Castroite future for Cuba lies through Beijing, so it doesn’t surprise Via Meadia to see Raúl paying a call.