Mr. Putin Goes to Havana

by | Dec 19, 2000

This past week, Russian president Vladimir Putin visited communist Cuba on a diplomatic visit to that tropical paradise, that CNN commentators love to gush about, Cuba. [Now if only CNN would only move there permanently!] Many have questioned the purpose of the trip, knowing full well that Cuba bears little economic significance relative to Russia […]

This past week, Russian president Vladimir Putin visited communist Cuba on a diplomatic visit to that tropical paradise, that CNN commentators love to gush about, Cuba. [Now if only CNN would only move there permanently!]

Many have questioned the purpose of the trip, knowing full well that Cuba bears little economic significance relative to Russia in this day and age. And while it must be admitted that Cuba and Russia were important economic allies during the Cold War, in the post-Soviet world of today Cuba has more trade with Venezuela than with its old communist patron.

So the question remains, why is he there? Is this an attempt to revive Russia’s relationship with a former Soviet ally in order to restore Russian influence in one of its traditional spheres? Indeed, such a question may seem justified when one considers Putin’s rather conniving behavior over the past year, not to mention the retrogression in the political reforms of Glasnost, the economic stagnation that is once again gripping the country.

By just about every economic measure, Cuba is a poor country. The Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal’s Index of Economic Freedom have consistently ranked the island nation as one of the most economically repressed in the world. While living standards in the country have steadily declined since Castro was ushered into power following a bloody putsch in 1959, Cuba’s severest economic degeneration didn’t begin until the early 1990’s, when Gorbachev ended the Soviet Union’s long-held practice of giving subsidies to Castro’s junta.

So what’s going on now? Putin has no money to lend, no goods to trade, and no military might to offer. Moreover, at a time when Russia is still on unsteady ground itself, and relies on World Bank and IMF funding to finance its economic growth and development, one would think the former-KGB chief would avoid state visits with dictators that harbor animosity towards the United States. After all, the United States has great sway with the World Bank and the IMF, and therefore has a lot of say in the conditions attached to official lending to Russia. Perhaps President Putin needs to be reminded of the old adage “choose your friends wisely”.

At the end of the day, the United States probably shouldn’t make too much of Putin’s visit. The Cold War is over, and neither Cuba nor Russia has the means or the domestic support to foment a new one. Besides, looking on the bright side, there could be a positive development coming out of this little rendezvous. Perhaps Putin will convince Castro that free-market reform will provide the most efficient way to allocate Cuba’s resources, and that a little capitalism is just what the country needs to break out of its economic doldrums.

Yeh, right.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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