FIDEL Castro’s Cuba and Ian Douglas Smith’s Rhodesia remain etched in the United States psyche as two countries that survived to tell the tale after sanctions were imposed on them.
Sanctions are the US’s first priority to deal with those it disagrees with, but they have not been successful when applied to countries that had good and ideologically grounded leaders.
The newly-established communist republic of Cuba, just 90km off the coast of Miami, was the first to deal with American wrath, but has lived to tell the tale 59 years later.
The Rhodesians too survived the United Nations economic onslaught for a good 15 years and left a decent economy at independence in 1980. It is interesting to look into how both Castro and Smith sustained their countries despite the hanging sword of Damocles.
The two, Castro and Smith, had nothing in common, except by a slight hand off chance that the Rhodesian premier’s private residence was next door to the Cuban embassy in Harare.
Castro was clear in his mind and actions that he was communist. His policies were thus geared towards redistribution of State resources to develop his country. On that path, Castro stuck and strove until he relinquished power due to health problems.
In his over four decades in power, Castro built some of the most admired health and education systems in the world.Yes, at given opportunities he would rant against the imperialist US, but he always rolled his sleeves and worked for his country and his people.
The former Cuban leader knew that he had to take sides and he went to bed with the Russians until the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1989. Castro may have badly negotiated some of the deals with Russia, but he was clever enough to know when to renegotiate for the best of his people.
In his speech in Venezuela in 1999, at the 40th anniversary celebration of Cuban revolution titled A Revolution Can Only be Born From a Culture of Ideas, Castro said: “Sadder still: I have seen how they have put many of our countries to compete with one another by favouring who offer more advantages and tax exemptions to investment. They have put many third world countries to compete with one another for investments and free trade zones.”
Castro did not lose his stride in attacking neo-liberalism adding: “There are countries – I know them by name – enduring such poverty and unemployment that they have had to establish dozens of free trade zones as an option within the established world order. It is this or not having free trade zone factories and jobs with certain salaries, even if these mount to only 7%, 6%, 5% or less of the salaries the owners of those factories would have to pay in the countries they come from.”
The former Cuban leader had foreseen the danger of free-trade zones and to whose benefit they were being put up in the first place.“We stated this at the World Trade Organisation, in Geneva, several months ago. They want to turn us into a huge free-trade zone, yes, that precisely, then with their money and technologies they will start buying everything. It remains to be seen how many airlines will remain national property, how many shipping lines, how many services will remain the property of the people or nations,” Castro said.
Thousands of kilometres away in Rhodesia, Smith was having his own revolution. He had just made the Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain and was set to create and sustain his racist Rhodesian State.
In fighting US and United Nations sanctions, Smith turned to what he could control, Zimbabwe’s natural resources and the creation of State-owned enterprises to manufacture the things that Rhodesia could no longer import. Under sanctions, the Rhodesian economy grew by double digits for 10 consecutive years. He established Harare’s Msasa, Graniteside, Workington and Southerton industrial areas to be his bulwark in import substitution.
On the educational front, Smith established polytechnics across the major urban areas to offer skills that were needed in the industry. He further established the Agriculture Finance Corporation (now Agribank) to fund commercial agriculture.
While he may have allowed the development of a national bourgeoisie, Smith was clear that State-owned enterprises would give guarantee and comfort to his ambitions and not be held to ransom by rapacious capitalists. By 1978, the 85 parastatals were contributing 40% of Rhodesia’s gross domestic product.
It may be far-fetched, but both Castro and Smith may have read Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, particularly where he writes on the creation of a national bourgeoisie that would not be swayed to close shop if things went awry.
These are the hard lessons President Emmerson Mnanagagwa may have missed in his policy of opening Zimbabwe to capitalist vultures, who have no attachment to the country except to make quick profit and leave the country.
The situation has been further compounded by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, who, as part of the solution to Zimbabwe’s economic problems, wants to sell parastatals, create free-trade zones and obtain loans to pay off international arrears.
I wonder why he has not learnt from Smith, who simply defaulted under sanctions and used the meagre resources to build the Rhodesian economy?
Without reading from history, Mnangagwa and his regime will fail dismally if they see Zimbabwe’s recovery through neo-liberal solutions such as privatisation and leaving the State with no role in the economy.