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Castro, Chavez and China
Why leftist ideology is no impediment for market capitalism in Latin America
Michael Werbowski (minou)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-29 05:43 (KST)   
Castro's ill health and the future of the Cuban revolution are material for much of the media speculation these days. His legacy and the future of Cuba will be one of the big stories of 2007.

However in hindsight 2006, besides being the year of his sad and inevitable departure, has been all in all an excellent one for leftist leaders in Latin America. Nicaragua, Equator, Bolivia, Venezuela have all electorally shifted and adapted to a greater or lesser degree to "socialism light": a new 21st century style of socialism geared to the age of globalization. On a more sobering note, Mexico for its part is tilting left yet risks being torn asunder by a fiercely polarized political landscape in the post electoral period.

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The "new left" in the region is modeled not so much on the old Marxist hardliners' hackneyed and worn revolutionary rhetoric. It's far more practical and its guiding principles come not from Moscow as during the Cold War but from Beijing. The model for growth and progress even under the red banner of a workers' paradise is a state-run society according to Chinese capitalism. To the dismay of their more democratic rivals like India, the Chinese have shown the world that a state planned economy can be run on capitalist free-market precepts very profitably.

China much like the Soviet Union of yesteryear is today, without doubt a great military power. Yet unlike the defunct Soviet empire, however, China is a manufacturing superpower as well. China makes old capitalist nations (and Latin America's former colonial oppressors) cower with fright when they compare their growth rates to that of the mighty dragon's.

China for all intents and purposes is the world's factory. With that in mind, the Communists, "caudillos" and strongmen in Havana and Caracas or even Managua can only emulate with great eagerness this successful economic model. China can export its socialism with a free market flavor to Latin America. In return this region so rich in natural resources such as petroleum and minerals can return the favor. Chinese oil companies are already doing business with Cuba by prospecting for oil off the island's coastline. The U.S on its side, can maintain a stranglehold over Cuba with its embargo.

But Havana seeks energy self sufficiency and has oil from Venezuela and investment cash from China to keep its "booming" economy going. For his part, Hugo Chavez has willingly spurned Washington but not without courting Chinese business partners beforehand. He obviously prefers to have China, a more ideologically compatible partner, as his major client for its oil exports. But geography and distance makes oil exports eastward expensive.

Chavez, despite his impassioned revolutionary rhetoric, is a "venture capitalist" at heart; he looks to China for entrepreneurial inspiration. But on the other hand, he seems to genuinely want to redistribute the fruits of prosperity (mainly sourced from oil revenues) to his people. He has so far done this successfully.

Other Latin American leaders recently elected over the course of 2006 might turn away from their rational marketplace in the U.S and Europe to China as their new client for their oil and gas and mineral exports as Chavez has done recently. This reorientation or realignment away from the North American export markets towards markets in China and the Far East is perhaps one feature of Latin America's 21st-century style of socialism and one of the most important geo-political phenomena of our times.
The author is a post graduate in Post Communist studies from the University of Leeds,U.K.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Michael Werbowski

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