In light of Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, here’s a humble suggestion. Obama should create a charter city in Guantanamo Bay. A charter city would accomplish two of Obama’s goals. First, it would show Cubans the power of capitalism, improving the lives of those who move to the city. Second, it would provide a pretext for closing the Guantanamo naval base, long a stain on America’s human rights record.
Charter cities are the brainchild of Paul Romer. The idea is to import good institutions like the rule of law, private property, and economic freedom, into countries which currently lack them. A charter is created between the host country, Cuba in this case, and a developed country, America. The charter allows the use of American laws and regulations, which are more conducive to economic development than Cuba’s.
Hong Kong, Singapore, Shenzhen, and Dubai all demonstrate how good institutions can lead to rapid economic growth in cities. Shenzhen, for example, was a small fishing village with 30,000 residents in 1980. In 1980 Shenzhen also became one of the first special economic zones in China, allowing foreign direct investment. The result was rapid economic development. Now the greater metropolitan area of Shenzhen is home to over 18 million residents.
Similar economic development is possible in Guantanamo Bay. Opening a charter city to the Cuban population would allow them to escape the repression of Castro’s regime. They would be able to start businesses, trade, and engage with the world economy. Perhaps more importantly, they would gain social freedom, the ability to read what they want, to write what they want, to say what they want, without fear of reprisal from their government.
Building a charter city in Guantanamo Bay would turn a symbol of American tyranny into a symbol of American hope. Rather than being known for indefinitely detaining prisoners, subjecting them to waterboarding and sleep deprivation, Guantanamo Bay could be a showcase for the best part of America, a symbol of the hope and opportunity America offers.
Guantanamo Bay offers the perfect opportunity to build a charter city. America already has jurisdiction, removing the primary barrier to charter cities. Guantanamo Bay also has a deepwater port, ensuring access to the world’s economy. With a total of 45 square miles, Guantanamo Bay, if developed, can house hundreds of thousands of Cubans, showing them a better life.
So, Obama, I ask you. Tear down the walls in Guantanamo Bay. Clear the minefields. Create an administrative body which can justly and efficiently apply the laws which have made America so successful. Allow Cubans to freely enter, to create, to build, to learn. Let them see, and be a part of, the best America has to offer. That is a legacy worth fighting for.