During a recent informal conference by a Cuban born entrepreneur with influence in the United States, he advocated outside private capital investment as a mean to bring economic changes within the communist regime that has enslaved Cubans for more than five decades. He made a comparison between Haiti vs. Singapore and economic liberty vs. political liberty indicating that Haiti has “free elections” but a “third world” economy while Singapore has a thriving economy under a “totalitarian” regime.
Conclusion: there is no reason Cuba cannot become a “Singaporean” society under Castro’s totalitarian regime.
I do not question the good intentions behind the words but I believe this comparison is misleading. To begin with, whether Haiti has ever had free and democratic elections is questionable and to compare Singapore’s government to the totalitarian regime of Cuba ignores the Cuban political reality and needs a trip or two to Singapore.
A search of Wikepedia shows that Singapore is a parliamentary republic with a Westminster system of unicameral parliamentary government and elections have been conducted since the British granted internal self-government in 1959, albeit always won by the People’s Action Party. Singapore’s legal system has its foundations in the English common law system and gained sovereignty as the Republic of Singapore in 1965, remaining within the Commonwealth.
While Castro’s regime has confiscated and eliminated all private business, most companies in Singapore are registered as private limited-liability companies, separate legal entities where shareholders are not liable for the company's debts beyond the amount of share capital they have contributed. Singapore is consistently rated one of the least corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International while in Cuba, Raul Castro by own admission recently declare that “corruption is one of the principal enemies of the revolution, much more prejudicial than the subversive and meddlesome programs of the U.S. government,” referring to Washington’s pro-democracy programs in Cuba.
Contrary to the education system in Cuba, education in Singapore evolves around the premise that every student has unique aptitudes and interests allowing students to develop their potential to the fullest, without political indoctrination. There are American, English, Muslim, Indian and multi-cultural schools where parents and students can freely choose from.
The Port of Singapore is the busiest in the world, surpassing Rotterdam and Hong Kong. Its port infrastructure and skilled workforce is due to the success of the country's education policy in producing skilled workers. Workers who receive benefits and competitive salaries paid directly to them without government intervention. Foreign companies constructing projects in Singapore need to bring workers from Malaysia, Indonesia and even as far as Thailand for lack of Singaporean citizens looking for jobs as the unemployment fell to a 14 year low last year and is currently at 2 percent. Cubans, on the other hand, like to joke that "the state pretends to pay us and we pretend to work.”
Further, you don’t find military and government agents in the streets of Singapore beating defenseless women carrying a pink gladiolus in their way to church, nor men willing to immolate themselves through hunger strikes. No to mention there is any Singaporean ever known looking to escape from that “dictatorship” in a feeble draft, queuing in front of the US Embassy or trying to obtain British citizenship to emigrate to England.
To advocate foreign capital investment in Cuba as a viable mean under Castro’s communist government which “has no vision for the future” and compare this regime to Singapore’s is deceiving not only to the international community and Cuban exiled community, but also against the interest of the the United States. A country that opened its door generously and provided economic opportunities that allowed accumulate the vast capital today in play.
We do not believe the purpose of the individual is the preservation of communism in Cuba ignoring the threat of Castro’s regime against the Hemisphere’s national security particularly to the United States, nor his intention to ignore the constant violations of human rights and persecution of dissidents. Therefore, a clear explanation and clarity of intent and more important, purpose of such initiative, is in order.
If we look at history we don’t find any country so far where a true free economy has evolved from a communist system. We only need to look at China, one of the largest exporters today; however, economic freedom as pursued by democracies does not exist within the great wall. On the contrary, the fruits of the new economy are concentrated in the hands of few. Foreign investors take advantage of cheap labor under a system where the rights of the individual are violated every day and nonexistent labor laws to prevent abuses against workers. This begs the question: Is this what the entrepreneur wants for Cuba? Let’s hope not.
To remove all doubt of pursuing individual gain, the entrepreneur better preach Adam Smith and his Wealth of Nations rather than Voltaire and Marx. On his Moral Foundation of Economic Growth, Adam Smith said, “Justice is the main pillar that upholds the edifice of society. If it stops working, if it is removed from the mix, the great fabric of human society must in a moment crumble into atoms”. How can any economy thrive in Cuba if its main pillar, justice, has been removed?
“Justice is the precondition for social order. Upon that foundation you will build commerce. To rush into in any other way is folly”, said Smith. Let’s repeat these word, and engrave them in stone: Justice is the precondition to build commerce. To run into commerce without justice is folly.
We find it hard to believe Castro’s regime will be willing to ease system injustices in exchange for commerce growth when the party’s only plan on the table is to remain in power for another 10 years and the island “reform tsar” told at the latest communist congress closing ceremony “there’s a limit (to economic changes) - the socialist system is untouchable”. How do you change what can’t be touched?
A system where injustice is rampant and violates human rights every day, where there is no freedom of speech or freedom of assembly, oppression is feared by most and citizens lack property rights, such regime is unable to provide the foundation of justice necessary for a capitalist and successful economy. Where there is no justice, a free economy that brings the miracle of the invisible hand of Adam Smith cannot exist.
Today, large corporations from Spain and Brazil are drilling for oil a few miles away from the coasts of the United States for the benefit of Castro’s government. A multi-million project that provides a source of foreign exchange to the regime; however, this huge enterprise does not create fair jobs for native workers as similar projects do in Singapore.
Another source of foreign capital for the regime is the dozens of hotels and vacation places that exist in Cuba owned by foreign companies. None of these hotels, however, provide jobs where Cubans can earn fair wages paid directly to them and even send workers home for two or three months without salary in the low season. Our entrepreneur needs to answer the question, who benefits from these foreign investments?
As rightly indicated by our entrepreneur a Cuban citizen who acquires economic purchasing power is a freer Cuban, maybe “not totally free, but freer” he said. The regime also knows this. Therefore, neither a huge oil platform construction nor any of the hotels provide rightful purchasing power to Cubans nor contribute to economic growth as known in free economies. Wages paid directly to the government that in turn discounts deeply the salary converting it into a remuneration of useless currency for the privileged few do not result in economic growth. Foreign hotel chains catering to outside tourists accept these arbitrary rules dictated by Castro’s regime and discriminate against the rest of the Cubans by restricting their visits and enjoyment of their premises built in Cuban soil. This is nothing but slavery, not making a man free.
The government similar to a slave master “owns” the workers and “rents” them for its own benefit and in addition, creates an apartheid society separating those who have from those who have not. Is this the kind of economy the entrepreneur wants for Cuba in exchange for the opportunity to invest in the country for future gains - slavery and apartheid? Let’s hope not.
Previously I mentioned that a transparent explanation and clarity of intent and more important, purpose of such economic initiative is in order.
Our entrepreneur told his audience that we should look for new ideas, do something new, unique, rather than wait for the “building” to fall. To look for doors and windows to enter the building and then claim the rooms, one by one. This sounds pretty good. Following his advice, I’d like to make a simple suggestion to help determine intent and purpose from both, the businessman and the regime.
A building just felled. The well-known Teatro Campoamor, crumbled into dust in Havana just a few days ago. Campoamor opened its doors in 1921 and for 40 years its walls saw and heard the best of the artistic culture of the time: Rita Montaner, Lola Flores, Pablo Roche, Eugenio Florit, Nicolas Guillen, Jose Angel Buesa, Gaston Baquero, Cintio Vitier among others.
If the purpose of our entrepreneur is to empower “cubanos de a pie” to start building a freer society, and the intent is to provide free market opportunities “Singapore style” why not start by rebuilding the “building” Campoamor but under free enterprise conditions as done in Singapore.
All construction must be done by Cuban workers and artisans exclusively; fair wages paid directly by the investor in hard currency directly to workers, rather than to the government; jobs made available to every Cuban seeking work whether they belong to the communist party or not; workers selected by the investor based on skill as done by every free enterprise and not based on nepotism. The new Campoamor building run privately and open to all Cuban artists whether from the Island or in exile, all and each invited to participate and perform in a grand cultural exchange opening ceremony, Willy Chirino included.
Let’s see whether Raul Castro and his clones agree to this new small step of capitalistic ingenuity or label it as another “subversive and meddlesome pro-democracy program.” If the regime agrees to empower Cuban workers allowing them for the first time in decades to earn a fair salary according to their abilities and become “not totally free, just more free” as claims the entrepreneur, he will earn the right to own the rooms of this building, and place a neon sign at the front door honoring his father’s name reading: “The new Campoamor a.k.a. “Saladrigas Theater.”
The challenge is on the table. Put the money where the mouth is and bring clarity to intent and purpose. Rebuild a historical building full of memories of a better era and past days destroyed by Castros’ regime and open its doors to all Cubans from both sides.
Otherwise, good intentions or not, continued attempts to negotiate with a regime unwilling to allow a Cuban born exiled investor build a glorious theater in his own country to “Honor Thy Father” may be constructed as nothing but being ready, willing and able to sell the soul for 30 silver coins.
For the good of Cuba, let’s hope not.