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Taiwan's Message to Cuba: Pragmatism

On two similar islands that have taken different paths, their different economic, political and social results are glaring.

Lai Ching-te (left) celebrates his election victory.
Lai Ching-te (left) celebrates his election victory. AFP

Lai Ching-te's victory in Taiwan is a clear message from citizens there about the future they want for the island, an endorsement of recent decades' democratic system of government, political and economic freedom, and social advances.

Almost everyone has taken note of the triumph of these pro-freedom policies, except Beijing, Havana and similar allies.

"The results of the two elections held in Taiwan show that the Democratic Progressive Party does not represent majority opinion of the island," alleged Chen Binhua, a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council of China.

Xi Jinping, meanwhile, scoffed at the resounding endorsement of more democracy, while leading the world's largest dictatorship with an iron fist. Around them, authoritarian countries reacted as expected.

Venezuela, meanwhile, reiterated its support for a "full-fledged, unwavering partnership" with China; Nicaragua expressed its "support for the Communist Party of China" and rejected Taiwan's "separatist acts;" while Iran declared its "firm support for the right of the People's Republic of China to defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Vietnam, in a more nuanced way, due to its historical conflicts with Beijing, supported the "One China" policy, but admitted that it "maintains popular, non-governmental relations with Taiwan in the fields of economics, trade, investment, science and technology, culture and education."

The most unexpected reaction came from Javier Milei, in Argentina. During his campaign he threatened to sever all relations with Beijing, in his typical no-holds-barred style, but now he supports "the one-China principle".

In Havana there was no room for nuance. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez ratified an "invariable adherence to the 'One China' principle." And, to avert any democratic debate on the question, he stated that "the question of Taiwan is an internal matter for China."

Cuba and Taiwan: two islands, two paths

"In 1949, Taiwan was about ten times poorer than Cuba. Like Cuba, it emerged from a long period of colonial rule, and its economy was agricultural, almost entirely based on sugar. Taiwan went through a long period of authoritarian rule under a nationalist regime. Nevertheless, it developed its own economic model, based on free enterprise, which it successfully advanced for the benefit of the Taiwanese,"explains Orlando Gutiérrez Boronat.

The president of the Cuban Democratic Directorate points out that, while this was taking place in Taiwan, "Mao was disrupting Chinese society and strangling its economy" and "Cuba was devolving towards communist totalitarianism."

Gutiérrez Boronat and other exiles met in 2019 with outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen. Therefore, Lai Ching-te's triump is also a source of hope for Cuban democrats.

"Historically, Taiwan has had a special appreciation for the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba. At different congresses and conferences, the Republic of China has always understood the Cuban people's quest to be free. And we have found openness, solidarity and friendship with your authorities," added the leader of the community of exiles, in a conversation with DIARIO DE CUBA.

A lesson for Cubans

In the presidential elections, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) garnered 40.1% of the vote, thus breaking the "curse" of no ruling party being able to retain power for more than eight years, ever since the first democratic elections in 1996, local public radio acknowledges.

The PDP is not just any party, but rather "a pro-democratic political force, progressive on social issues, that supports the struggle against authoritarianism," says Cuban political scientist and historian Armando Chaguaceda.

The academic, who collaborates with Taiwanese civil society, especially on issues against disinformation and for the democratization of Cuba, highlighted the "advances in terms of women's, youth and social rights; the environment, and the technological transition."

In 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Currently, their extreme poverty rates are below 1%, according to official figures.

"In addition, it is important that the PDP has been led by a woman, concluding two periods of government, with high popularity," Chaguaceda told DIARIO DE CUBA.

In his opinion, an "important lesson" of the PDP's victory "is having resisted blackmail, pressure, and disinformation, as well as direct intimidation, from China."

"It shows Cubans the value of pragmatism, of the capacity to forge alliances, beyond their own ideology. The Government of Taiwan thanked both Trump and Biden for their support. Obviously, the PDP is closer to the Democrats than to the Republicans, but this reveals the importance of consensus in the  defense of democracy, transcending ideologies," said Chaguaceda. 

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