¡Estamos aquí ayudar!September 2009, McClatchy:
When a Chinese legislative delegation flew to Havana earlier this month, among the reported $600 million in aid and loans — a figure reported by the Agence France Presse wire service that officials in Beijing wouldn't confirm — were promises to update Cuba's traffic signal system and dispatch technicians to a vegetable canning factory. ...Cuba has been hit hard by the global recession, which dampened the price for its biggest export, nickel. So pardon my cynicism about the September 13 announcement from Havana that they were slashing up to a million government jobs -- half of them to be gone by March 2011 -- and taking moves to encourage small business ownership. Much of that business will be bankrolled and owned by Chinese using Cuban frontmen.
China is now Cuba's second-biggest trading partner, and there are hopes in Beijing that as Havana opens its markets, Chinese companies will get a big chunk of industries such as cell phones and consumer goods. China has made a $500 million deal to invest in Cuban nickel, a key component in the steel needed by China's construction boom.
As to Raul Castro's announcement in August that 52 imprisoned political dissidents would be released -- Beijing wants Havana's continued support for its stand on Tibet and Taiwan. Yet it's been hard for China to cite Cuba's support given the regime's human rights abuses. So Castro's slight easing up on political dissent and the issue of prisoner releases, which has been in the works for months, is not a surprise.
As to whether China's increased presence in Cuba will have a positive side -- China's foray into quasi-imperialism has been a mixed blessing.
In his speech in August (see link above) Raul Castro said, "We have to end forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where you can live without working."
They're going to leave that notion behind very fast once more Chinese start running businesses in Cuba. The Chinese have zero tolerance for lazy people -- and they have a very low threshold for what constitutes laziness.
Those who complain, 'We're so hungry we can't put in a good day's work' can save that line for aid organizations, unless they'd like to hear Chinese tell them how much they had to starve to get to where they are today.
One of America's top experts on Mexico, George Grayson, said a few years ago that if Taiwan led Mexico, within 20 years the country would be an economic colossus. Mexicans could shave five years off that estimate if Mainland China's government did the leading.
So it's all to the good that peoples who'd taken on the airs of emperors are getting a big dose of the work ethic. The downside is that China's government brings in its own workforce rather than hiring 'natives,' which has caused great anger in countries where people looked at the entry of the Chinese as an employment bonanza. Well, the Chinese have their own employment needs. Their position (usually spoken behind closed doors) is that there's nothing to prevent the natives from adopting China's business model.
And you know what? The Chinese are right.
Cuba, as with Mexico and many other countries, is caught in a vicious cycle. Many Cubans actually do know how to put in a good day's work -- but they work in Cuba's huge black market.
There are different reasons for the black markets in various countries but the result is always the same: the government can't collect enough taxes to support good public education and 'safety-net' social programs, leading to more desperate poverty, leading to more black market activity, leading to further erosion of the country's tax base.
I have talked about this cycle several times over the years and spelled it out in detail in 2005 in an essay I titled Paw, a Revenuer's at the door. "Quick Abdullah, put on your tribal headdress!", in which I poked fun at tribes who'd claimed nomad status to avoid paying taxes in Iraq.
However, there's nothing funny about the consequences of the cycle, which entrenches the "deviant" economies, as Nils Gilman refers to them. Black-market or deviant globalization is the scourge of modern civilization, yet Cubans will soon have a fighting chance to bust out of the cycle that fuels it.
As to the strategic considerations for the United States of China's Peaceful Sneaking in our part of the Western Hemisphere -- what can I say that President George Washington hadn't already said in the foreign policy section of his farewell address? He warned the fledgling American nation against thrashing around the world in the name of national defense. That the Chinese are now padding around the world in the name of trade and being helpful -- they'd do that under any circumstances but the United States doesn't have a leg to stand on in the debate.
My greatest concern at this point about China's padding around the Caribbean and Latin America is that wherever the Chinese go in this century the slave trade burgeons. And I do mean burgeon. From Neshani Jani's 11 January 2010 report, Gender Imbalance and Human Trafficking in China
... According to humantrafficking.org “Chinese women and children are trafficked for sexual and labor exploitation in Malaysia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Europe, Canada, Japan, Italy, Burma, Singapore, South Africa, and Taiwan. Many Chinese are recruited by false promises of employment and are later coerced into prostitution or forced labor.”If you ask why so many Westerners have taken to owning slaves -- these are rarely Westerners, when you set aside the sex slave trade. For the most part they're expats and immigrants living in the West who come from countries where even the economic middle class is so lazy it doesn't want to wash a dish, and where picking up after oneself is only for slaves and servants.
I add that this is institutionalized laziness -- more a matter of culture than character, although that excuse has been crumbling fast in the globalized era of communications and travel. To return to Neshani's report:
China also has a significant amount of internal trafficking of children for sexual and labor exploitation. Estimates on the number of victims range from 10,000 to 20,000 each year.I interject that it's past time to start calling a spade a spade instead of using the sterile and misleading term 'human trafficking.' There is smuggling of immigrants and bonded labor, and there is the slave trade. While these activities often converge, lumping them together as 'human trafficking' helps mask the fact that the slave trade, while it never fully ended, has resurfaced with a vengeance in this era of globalized trade.
Human trafficking has also increased in the Asia periphery, as there has been a sharp increase in trafficking women from other Asian countries into China in order to fill the gender void. ...
Beijing, under severe pressure from many governments and the United Nations, has finally gotten serious about trying to break up Chinese slave trading gangs, but at this time in history the effort is like trying to empty the ocean with a sieve. (See Neshani's report.) That's because the preference among families for male children in China (and many countries) has resulted in population 'gender imbalances' that have made kidnapping of females, including female children, a highly lucrative aspect of the slave trade. (This says nothing about the gangs outright purchasing female children for forced marriages.)
But once the internal kidnapping rings are set up it's pretty easy to expand the business into an external slave trade. The Chinese gangs have had the edge in this era over other globalized slave traders. That's because as China's global presence has expanded, the gangs have come into countries on the backs of legitimate Chinese businesses.
So my message to Cuban parents, as their country prepares to enter the brave new world of liberalized globalized trade with help from the Chinese, is "Best of luck -- and keep a close eye on your daughters."
Peaceful Sneaking, Part 1
Peaceful Sneaking, Part 2