Nguyen Phu Trong, head of Vietnam’s communist party, visited Cuba last week. There was a joint statement where Vietnam expressed “invariable support for the just cause of struggle of the Cuban people,” where Cuba noted that Nguyen was decorated with the Order of Jose Marti, and where it was announced that Raul Castro accepted an invitation to visit Vietnam. Separately, Cuban media reported that Vietnamese advisors are teaching techniques that are increasing rice yields at a UBPC cooperative in Sancti Spiritus province.
Much more interesting, there was an interview in Granma where Nguyen discussed his country’s economic “renovation,” called doi moi, and commented on Cuba’s economic policy changes. Between the lines, his message to Cubans is to stick with it, accept that changes have to proceed slowly, changes will bring improvement, and if you haven’t adjusted your attitude yet about introducing more market mechanisms and incentives into the socialist economy, do so now.
Vietnam’s economic reform process “has not been simple.” It started in 1986 but was preceded by four years of experimentation on the farm and in the factory. Land grants to farmers began in 1981, for example, but only in 1986 was a policy adopted to pay farmers “by piecework” (which I take to mean based on output rather than based on a sum agreed in advance).
When the process started, “many thought that the country intended to abandon socialism, but history has “demonstrated the opposite.” He uses the phrase, “market economy with socialist orientation.”
The reforms have “considerably improved people’s lives.” The poverty rate dropped from 75 percent in 1986 to 9.5 percent in 2010.
The hardest part of the reform has been “to change the general and individual mentality in Vietnam, many thought that the transformations would move us away from socialism. Some even talked of deviations, others are more conservative.”
It seems that Cubans are “in the same phase.” “The change in mentality must be achieved at all levels, from the top to the base.”