On April 21, 2007, Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party released photos of a convalescing Fidel Castro meeting with a senior member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. The photos underscored how tightly Cuba has hitched itself to the Chinese economic wagon, and how much both Fidel and his brother Raúl have warmed to a country whose former leader, Deng Xiaoping, Fidel once described as a mentecato (“numbskull”).
After Cuba lost its main benefactor, the Soviet Union, its economy shrank by over 35 percent. But Cuba has recovered, and more recently, with a little help from its new friends Venezuela and China—Venezuela subsidizes Cuba’s oil consumption while China provides Cuba with investment and durable goods, and buys its sugar and nickel—Cuba has avoided the regime change that occurred when East European socialist states faced similar economic crises in the late 1980s. In Cuba, housing shortages, mounting debt and deteriorating public services have produced no mass protests, no general strikes, no throngs taking to the Plaza de la Revolución to demand multiparty elections or an end to central planning. Indeed, it now seems possible that Cuba may follow the “Chinese model” of reform, whereby Communist Party control is maintained alongside a gradual establishment of free-market incentives.
But can Cuba continue along this path?
If and when the Trump administration increases pressure on China ... China may decide to double down on its expanding footprint in the United States’ neighborhood.