With the death of Fidel Castro, many are wondering what the future holds for Cuba. Could the island nation finally free itself from the chains of communism with the Dear Leader finally dead? A recent trip I took to Vietnam gives me hope for Cuba's successful transition to a market economy.
In all likelihood, an economic sea change isn't likely to sweep the Caribbean country immediately. Nevertheless, Cuba has taken some positive steps towards a market economy in recent years. In 2011, President Raul Castro legalized private property, allowing citizens to buy and sell their homes and farmers to cultivate a portion of their land for profit. This year brought even more optimistic changes, with many United States embargo restrictions on travel and trade lifted, facilitating the freer flow of goods and services.
Historically speaking, Cuba is likely to join most other so-called "communist" countries still standing today by embracing more capitalist reforms. While China, Laos and Vietnam are all red in theory, in practice the three Asian countries have enjoyed some of the fastest economic growth in recent decades because of free market reforms. North Korea is arguably the last true communist holdout, with the state completely owning the means of production to disastrous results.
This odd juxtaposition of communist ideology with capitalist practice was on full display when I visited Vietnam in November. The monuments and museums are still filled with propaganda. Nearly every mention of the Vietnam War is presented in black and white, as "imperialists" versus "patriots." Granted, that time period wasn't exactly the brightest for American foreign policy, but the communist recollection is so biased to the point of humor. While strolling through Ho Chi Minh City's War Remnants Museum, for example, I couldn't help but laugh at a panel claiming to show a photograph of South Vietnamese soldiers "drinking blood and swearing to destroy the communists."
Nevertheless, communism seems to have no hold on the Vietnamese people. The markets, restaurants and nightclubs give little sign of a socialist past. Symbols of capitalism are everywhere, even at symbolic locations. The apartment building where the last American helicopter fled Saigon from the roof, for example, now stands next to a giant mall with a Zara on the ground floor.
Furthermore, the people could not be more welcoming towards Americans. In fact, the Vietnamese favorability rate towards the U.S. is one of the highest in the world at 77 percent, according to Pew. With many victims of Agent Orange and their infected offspring still alive today, I almost wouldn't blame the country for holding a grudge against Americans. But capitalism quickly makes the worst of enemies the best of friends.
Indeed, the locals I talked to seem to have a tacit understanding that markets are much better than the country's socialist past. While enjoying a walking tour led by students native to Ho Chi Minh City, my guide told me out of the blue that she thinks most Vietnamese remember the years immediately following the war bleakly since command-and-control policies led to long lines for basic goods and services. "It's much better now," she said as another guide nodded in agreement.
I'd like to imagine a similar picture could emerge in Cuba in a few short decades. Especially with such a strong Cuban community in Miami and elsewhere in the U.S., the stage is set for an embrace of human rights and the healing power of free enterprise.
Casey Given is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the executive director of Young Voices. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.