Wednesday, 25 July 2018


Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos
I've been home from Cuba for a couple of days, long enough for impressions to solidify.

It's a country unlike any other I've ever visited. I was expecting similarities between Vietnam and Cuba, given that they are both societies dealing with the withdrawal of support from Soviet Russia when the wall fell.

Indeed there are similarities, but the differences are more consequential than the similarities.

Music is everywhere
Both are nominally Communist states, but the way they operate is very different.

In Vietnam, I saw entrepreneurship. I didn't see that in Cuba. In Vietnam I saw energetic competition. I saw none of that in Cuba. Both exhibit strong nationalistic values, but the Cubans are more laid back about it than the Vietnamese.

The differences consolidate for me the belief that the mantle of Marxism rests more gently on Vietnam than it does on Cuba, and that independence was the critical issue for Vietnam, but for Cuba, the issue was revolution.

Che Guevara's house
Indeed, both are fiercely independent nations, but what the respective pasts they separated themselves from is different. The Vietnamese were weary of decades of invading armies, whereas Cuba was subject to a different kind of invasion - essentially economic.

Unfortunately for Cuba, the control of the state over enterprise has stifled many opportunities, especially around tourism. The Vietnamese on the other hand have exploited tourism.

There has not been the equivalent of Doi Moi in Cuba. The locals rate the pope's visit in 2015 as the most significant recent event that began to open the country to economic progress. They talk about back channel approaches to the US administration.

Many believe these alleged approaches from the Vatican set up Obama's visit in 2016.

They will tell you that for a short while after Obama's visit, there were changes, but now the status quo has returned.

Trump has his Florida base to think about.

Whatever. Cuba is a fascinating travel destination. It is safe, comparatively cheap, and the blend of architecture, music, food and history is irresistible.

Then there are the cars - but that's another story.


Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...