Monday, February 25, 2008

Hong Kong Paper: Hanoi Loses Drinking Pal As Castro Moves On

Hong Kong Paper: Hanoi Loses Drinking Pal As Castro Moves On

Posted on: Saturday, 23 February 2008, 09:00 CST

Text of report by Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post website
on 23 February

Mix Cuban rum with fresh Vietnamese mint, limes and sugar and you have
the perfect Mojito cocktail -at least if you are serving it to drinkers
of a revolutionary leaning.

More than one Mojito will be mixed in Hanoi this weekend as Vietnamese
cadres toast their old friend Fidel Castro, who this week finally
stepped down as leader of Cuba.

For some it will be bitter-sweet. The Cuban-Vietnamese relationship has
long been one of the strangest in the region -but also one of the most

A steadily modernising Vietnam may be broadening and deepening its
diplomacy but its leaders refuse to ignore old mates. And none are older
than Fidel, who ruled his Caribbean island nation with an iron fist for
49 years until this week.

Among the intriguing fraternity of communist nations, it is hard to find
a closer bond than that shared by Havana and Hanoi -both relatively
small tropical nations that are fiercely independent. Both, of course,
shared an enmity with the United States.

For decades both struggled under a crippling US economic embargo - a
restriction that remains on Cuba.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung spoke of this shared
history in highly rare terms this week. "Fidel is a loyal friend, an
impeccable companion," Mr Dung said. "For the people here in Vietnam,
Fidel Castro will always remain a great friend, a great comrade and a
dearest brother who has been making efforts to develop the traditional
friendship between the two countries."

Their links during the Vietnam war were unmatched. Cuban planners,
engineers and architects helped build roads, flats, hospitals and
hostels -some still standing. Thousands of Vietnamese cadres trained in
Havana, with broadcasters pumping propaganda into America to fuel
anti-war protests.

There was a darker edge, too. American prisoners of war in the notorious
"Hanoi Hilton" came to fear Cuban torturers -a subject recently revived
by US presidential candidate and former prisoner of war John McCain to
swift denials from Dr Castro. In the 1980s, the relationship supported
rebels in central America. Salvadoreans lived in Hanoi to learn tunnel

Dr Castro has staged several triumphant visits to Vietnam over the
years, including one in the early 1970s when he marched into
communist-captured areas of the then American-backed South Vietnam in a
propaganda coup. One of the most recent state visitors to his bedside in
Havana was Nong Duc Manh, current head of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

The lingering warmth is all the more remarkable considering clearly
divergent paths. While Cuba's reform doors have barely creaked open,
Vietnam is steaming along after two decades of at times stuttering
economic and social reform -an effort boosted by an emerging friendship
with the US. Vietnam's economy is one of the fastest-growing in the
region and it is attracting increasing amounts of foreign investment as
infrastructure improves and membership in the World Trade Organization
bears fruit.

After years of wartime aid from Cuba, it is Vietnam that is helping its
old patron. Last year Vietnam -the world's second largest rice exporter
-shipped 3,000 tonnes of free rice to Cuba. Hanoi continues to lobby and
protest against what its leaders describe as an "unjust and imperialist"
US embargo.

As Dr Castro steps aside -an apparent bid to manage transition - it is
not clear whether Cuba's new leadership will learn from the Hanoi model.
One factor may prove compelling for Cuba's ageing revolutionaries
-partial openness, reform and growth has, for the moment at least,
appeared to secure the stability of one-party rule.

Even the most hardened old cadre will drink to that.

Originally published by South China Morning Post website, Hong Kong, in
English 23 Feb 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific. Provided by ProQuest Information
and Learning. All rights Reserved.

Source: BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific

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