Khaleej Times
24 November 2004

Castro hails China’s progress, but rejects capitalist reform


HAVANA - Chinese President Hu Jintao left Cuba Tuesday after signing a raft of deals in a 29-hour trip that gave a big political and economic boost to the island’s leader, Fidel Castro.

“We have a solid base on which to deepen our relations, thanks to our many shared common politics. We both choose a socialist path to our development,” Hu said earlier in the day.

Castro heaped praise on China’s progress but made it clear, with Hu looking on, that Cuba would not adopt China’s capitalist path to economic growth.

“Socialism will remain in the end the only real hope for peace and the survival of our species,” said Castro, in a grey business suit instead of his usual olive fatigues, at a ceremony at the Palace of the Revolution.

From his wheelchair, Castro, 78, who is recovering from a fall and a broken knee, said Cuba and China share “the ideals of socialism,” and that China “objectively speaking has become the most promising hope and the best example for all developing countries.”

“I do not hesitate to say that it is now the main engine of world economic growth,” Castro added.

Yet the Cuban president, whose government has backtracked on the few concessions to capitalism with which it has experimented, said: ”Each people must adapt its revolutionary strategy and goals to the specific conditions of its own country.”

Castro briefly stood with a cane for the singing of national anthems. His son Antonio, a physician and traumatologist, handed his father the cane.

“In a country that was overwhelmingly rural, a vanguard of workers and intellectuals contributed to the poor and oppressed of China the enlightening ideas of socialism, inspired by the genius of (Karl) Marx, and the boundless daring and revolutionary talent of Lenin,” Castro said.

Cuba and China, along with Vietnam, Laos and North Korea are the world’s only remaining communist-ruled countries.

Hu met earlier with Castro’s designated successor, his brother Raul Castro.

While there was no official departure from Cuba’s current lack of openness to economic and political reform, Raul Castro, 73, hailed what he stressed was the Chinese Communist Party’s role in boosting China’s economic status while also insisting on social goals.

“China has achieved nothing short of a feat, transforming a poor, backward and multiethnic country into a genuine power,” Raul Castro said at a business forum which his brother did not attend.

“But this was not a miracle; rather it was achieved through the guidance of the Communist Party, which led toward socialism—using Chinese techniques—to this growth,” Raul Castro said.

In Cuba, “we, too, adopt socialism to buttress our independence and economic development,” added Raul Castro, whom the president hand-picked as his successor despite the army chief’s relative lack of popularity.

The visiting Chinese president, with Raul Castro at the forum, said: “We have a solid base on which to deepen our ties due to our broad political commonalities. We both have chosen the socialist road for our development.”

But Hu did not address the glaring difference in choice of economic models between the communist allies: China has embraced a role in a capitalist global production system, booming along the way. Cuba has not and is in dire economic straits.

Beijing in turn has become a vital economic and political ally for the largely internationally isolated Fidel Castro.

Only two hours after his arrival, Hu and Fidel Castro publicly signed 16 cooperation agreements, including one boosting the extraction of nickel from Cuba’s top world reserve estimated at 800 million tonnes.

The agreement calls for building an extraction facility that will produce 22,500 tons of nickel and cobalt per year.

Located in the Cuban province of Holguin, 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Havana, the Las Cariocas plant will boost Cuban nickel production from its current 75,000 tonnes a year to almost 100,000 tonnes, a long-sought goal of the Cuban government.

The plant will be 49 percent owned by China’s Minmetal and 51 percent by Cuba’s Cubaniquel monopoly. China and Europe are the chief importers of Cuban nickel.

Cuba was the final stop on Hu’s first Latin America tour since he became president in 2003. He also went to Brazil, Argentina and Chile, where he attended the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum summit.

Hu is making the third visit to Cuba by a Chinese president after his predecessor Jiang Zemin in 1993 and 2001. He is to leave Cuba late Tuesday