Fidel Castro’s Cuba vs Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore: A Tale of Two Economies (UPDATE)
On Friday, November 25, Fidel Castro died at age 90. The former revolutionary and hardline dictator of Cuba was among the 20th century’s longest-serving leaders, third only to Elizabeth II and Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, who passed away in October.
Castro’s death comes at a pivotal moment in U.S.-Cuban relations. With trade between the two countries on the path to normalization, and with U.S. airlines making scheduled flights to Havana for the first time in more than 50 years, President-elect Donald J. Trump has pledged to reinstate many of the Cold War embargos that were lifted by President Barack Obama.
“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump tweeted on November 28.
In light of Castro’s passing, we are rerunning this Frank Talk from March 2015, in which Frank compares and analyzes the widely divergent economies of Cuba and Singapore under their now-deceased leaders, Castro and Lee Kuan Yew.
It would be nearly impossible to find two world leaders in living memory whose influence is more inextricably linked to the countries they presided over than Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away this Monday at the age of 91.
You might find this hard to believe now, but in 1959—the year both leaders assumed power—Cuba was a much wealthier nation than Singapore. Whereas Singapore was little more than a sleepy former colonial trading and naval outpost with very few natural resources, Cuba enjoyed a thriving tourism industry and was rich in tobacco, sugar and coffee.
Fast forward about 55 years, and things couldn’t have reversed more dramatically, as you can see in the images below.
The ever-widening divergence between the two nations serves as a textbook case study of a) the economic atrophy that’s indicative of Soviet-style communism, and b) the sky-is-the-limit prosperity that comes with the sort of American-style free market capitalism Lee introduced to Singapore.