By Lázaro Barredo Medina and Claudia Fonseca Sosa
Just prior to his interview with Granma, on the afternoon of April 11, Nguyen Phu Trong, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee, had the opportunity to meet with Fidel and our conversation began with his impressions of the encounter.
I just returned from Fidel’s house and we had a conversation that lasted almost two hours. If we had had more time, we would have continued talking.
Today I saw a very healthy Fidel, as compared to our first meeting in 2010. The meeting was very cordial and interesting, without any kind of protocol, like two brothers living in the same house. Fidel held my hands for several minutes and said he was very happy [to see me.] We Vietnamese have a lot of respect for Fidel and his people.
Once the conversation began, we became aware of the many things we have to reflect upon. Fidel spoke not only of political issues, but about science and technology as well.
Fidel recalled his 1973 trip to Vietnam. He referred to my comments at the event held yesterday at Hai Phong wharf [in Havana] and of the strong friendship Cuba and Vietnam share.
When I arrived, there was a copy of the lecture I gave, at the Party’s Ñico López Advanced Studies School, on the table. He asked about the number of copies made and the number of cadres at the event.
He considered my speech insightful and accurate and wanted to clarify a few of the [Cuban] guidelines that are similar to policies Vietnam has been implementing. He wanted to know my opinion. He said that currently there are many people who only want to listen and not reflect.
He also said that he had been following my visit through the media and asked how I had been feeling. He wanted to hear about aspects of my visit to the province of Pinar del Río and inquired, in some detail, about agricultural development in Vietnam.
He was interested in our plans to visit different countries in Latin America and, to my surprise, knew that April 14 was my birthday and asked where I would be at that time.
The entire time, Fidel showed that his mind was very clear, undertaking studies with a very logical, scientific approach. We are convinced that leaders need to have these qualities, to be concrete.
STRATEGIES FOR SOCIALIST RENOVATION
The Vietnamese leader offered a brief explanation of the principal steps Vietnam has taken in its policy of Renovation.
When, in 1986, Vietnam began to implement the policy of Renovation – known in Vietnamese as Doi Moi – many thought that the country intended to abandon socialism. Since then, 26 years have transpired and history has shown the contrary, because through our experience, combined with Marxist-Leninist theoretical and scientific arguments, and the thought of Ho Chi Minh, we reached the conclusion that only through socialism can we maintain our national independence, prosperity and the happiness of our people.
With the leadership of the Communist Party, the Vietnamese people have been able to adapt relevant economic transformations to the historical context and the concrete needs of the country, without sacrificing political stability. We have achieved impressive socio-economic gains and are constantly drawing closer to our ideal of “building a ten times more beautiful Vietnam.”
But in order to fulfill Ho Chi Minh’s dream we have had to deal with diverse obstacles and advance without making hasty decisions. Our Party is conscious that the transition to socialism is a prolonged, difficult and complicated process.
The Doi Moi process has not been easy. Beginning in the 1980’s, through the present, we have come a long way. From 1981 until 1985, we went through what could be called pre-Renovation, during which we carried out different experiments, balancing theory with practice. We drew conclusions.
It was not until 1986 that the policy of Renovation was formulated. Between 1980 and ‘81 we began to grant lands to rural workers, but it was not until the 6th Congress of our Party in 1986 that the Political Bureau drafted Resolution no. 10 which defined the work to be done one step at a time.
From then on, agricultural development began to accelerate and, allow me to tell you, as an example, reaching production of 47 million tons of rice a year took a great deal of effort and continues to require effort year after year.
Up until 1989, we were importing rice to meet the needs of the population. That year, we were not only able to meet our own internal needs, but were able to export our first million tons of rice, as well.
In the industrial sector, something similar happened. Between 1981 and 1982, we began to eliminate the bureaucratic system, but the policies to be followed were not approved until 1986. It wasn’t until 1991 that talk began of a multi-faceted economy, of a market economy with a socialist orientation. During this period we were also facing a 20-year U.S. blockade and talk of integration into the world economy was not possible.
And all of this in addition to other problems such as lasting damage caused by the wars. I will only mention one example. Millions of people, still today, are suffering incurable illnesses; hundreds of thousands of children are born with abnormalities, as a consequence of Agent Orange, a dioxin the U.S. troops sprayed during the war. According to experts, it will take Vietnam 100 years to completely rid itself of the bombs and mines still buried in our soil. As I said during my talk at the Ñico López, in the province Quang Tri alone, which Fidel visited in 1973, thousands and thousands of live bombs and mines remain buried in 45% of the arable land.
These are just a few examples of the arduous task we faced in the renovation effort. Most difficult, however, is changing the general and individual mentality in Vietnam. Many people thought that the changes would lead us away from socialism. They even spoke of deviations, others are more conservative. Vietnam has not only made significant economic gains during the last 25 years, but has also solved some social problems in a much better fashion than capitalist countries at a similar level of development. And as evidence of this is the fact that, in our country, the poverty rate, which was 75% in 1986, was reduced to 9.6% in 2010. The renovation has led to very positive changes and considerably improved the lives of our people. This was recognized by the United Nations which has reported that Vietnam is one of the first countries to meet many of the Millennium Objectives.
And during my visit these last few days in Cuba, as I’ve conversed with your leaders, it appears to me that you are in the same phase. The change of mentality must take place at all levels, from the highest level to the grassroots.
The Renovation’s consolidation is an issue we addressed in our recent 11th Party Congress and, as for long term objectives and tasks, it should be emphasized that our goal is for Vietnam to become fundamentally an industrialized country by 2020. Our development strategy, from 2011 to date, is based on three basic principles: invest in infrastructure, develop human resources and reform institutions.
Of course, we face challenges in the area of the economy and international integration and in the area of social programs where we face some limitations and doing it all, as I said during my lecture at the Party School here, we are conscious that corruption, bureaucratism and degeneration are potential dangers to a party in power, especially under market economy conditions. The Communist Part of Vietnam demands of itself constant self-renovation, self-criticism and is waging a vigorous struggle against opportunism, individualism and the degeneration of its ranks and throughout the political system.
During your stay in Cuba, the excellent relations between Cuba and Vietnam, a symbol of the era, were noted. What are the ties between the two countries specifically and what cooperative projects are projected as a result of the visit?
Both parties are products of revolutionary processes and of the fusion of distinct political organizations; this is something Cuba and Vietnam share.
Both countries have a one party system. Cuba, as well as Vietnam, is developing via the socialist route. We are following the legacy of our predecessors in combination with Marxism-Leninism. We are two strong peoples, very brave and courageous in struggle. Our parties established, very early on, ties of friendship, solidarity and cooperation. We are following the same logic, defending our respective revolutions. Thus our relationship is very close.
From very early on, we’ve exchanged work and leadership experiences, and we have collaborated in different international forums and bodies, promoting causes we share. In 2011, both parties held congresses and, once ours was concluded, we sent an emissary here to inform you of the outcome. Raúl has also offered to send us someone to do the same.
At this time, Vietnam has the Renovation policy and Cuba is applying its strategy of updating its economic model. Both of us are following the socialist path. There are many similarities, although each country has its own conditions and historical particularities. There is nothing standing in the way of further development of the relationship between the two parties.
During our visit, we have agreed to expand the exchange of delegations, as well as bilateral meetings and exchanges of experience. We are going to organize seminars, workshops between the two countries and the two parties.
We want to continue building this friendship, this respectful mutual understanding, to strengthen this relationship of sisterhood, taking important steps along the road both countries have taken in the struggle for national independence and socialism.