Let's get really subversive and convert Guantanamo Bay into a free-trade port

Article by John Blundell in The Scotsman

FIDEL Castro's ill health makes Cuba's future topical again. The one option that seems impossible is the preservation of autocratic communism. Socialism is an idea that has failed.

Havana is beautiful for tourists but wretched for its residents. Soon there will only be the museum exhibit of North Korea, comical for us to observe but cruel for its citizens.

We should not forget there is another corner of Cuba that is highly topical, too - Guantanamo Bay, the American base. As a military prison it is harvesting entirely miserable publicity for the USA. Let us make it a territory of free trade rather than grim detention. Let it perform the task West Berlin did to East Germany - it provoked reform. It held up a mirror of capitalist vitality against socialist inertia.

There is a Scottish footnote to Guantanamo Bay. Colonised by the Crown in the 18th century, it was termed Cumberland Bay after the duke, remembered for the blood at Culloden. Typhoid ruined the British experiment. We yielded it to the Spanish.

The Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation's experiment in computing where people are most free rates Hong Kong and Singapore as top of the liberty league. Both are anomalies.

Singapore was founded by the British in 1819 and Hong Kong in 1841. Although the sweat and dexterity that made these two city states flourish was mostly Chinese, the Brits added two magic ingredients - the rule of law and free trade.

In both cases, the men who selected the sites were regarded as wildly misguided and their projects utterly futile. Singapore was an unhealthy mangrove swamp that not even the locals fancied. Hong Kong was no more than a fishing village. Both had superb anchorages - just like Guantanamo.

Now make a leap of imagination. The 71 square miles of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba could have a far happier and prosperous future if it raised its horizons from the merely military to becoming an entrepôt centre for the entire Caribbean.

Hong Kong's dynamism served to convert China to capitalism. A Guantanamo opened up as a freeport would subvert Castro's ugly regime.

The enclave is not tiny. It is bigger than Edinburgh. This, the oldest American base on foreign soil is a legal curiosity. It was stolen from Cuba in 1898, then given a