The death of Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 through 1990, has triggered an analytic hurricane similar to that attempting to explain the intricacies’ of Yemen’s Civil War. Most pundits have taken the view that Mr Lee established a ‘Disneyland with the death penalty,” as William Gibson put it, where freedom was sacrificed on the altar of wealth.
Others have called the island nation ‘the cocoon of enlightened authoritarianism.” Most have hailed Mr Lee as the transformer of a nation and of his corner of the world through development. To be sure, Singapore owns the world’s second-busiest port, its airport hosts 15 million visitors a year, and its airline is the only one in the world that seems to know how to transport human beings rather than cattle.
Singapore's growth rate has stayed around 7% since 1976, per capita income has passed that of the US and the country consistently comes out first in the World Bank ranking of ease to do business. This impressive achievement has inspired copy-cats that include the Chinese leadership and most recently African nations.
But very few have ventured to describe the future of Singapore once modernity starts munching up Mr Lee’s legacy.
Will Singapore become less successful in terms of economic growth?
Will it see political gridlock set in like is has all over democratic regimes in the West?
The answer lies in people. High education standards sustained over a 60 year period have created a different human breed. Singaporeans today are the incarnation of the Homo Economicus submitted by classical economists. By means of seeking their own wellbeing and acting as consumers to maximize income and as producers to maximize profits, they are led by an invisible hand that creates common wellbeing.
And common wellbeing is the greatest asset that this country has created over the years, as it gives its population strength in unity and competitiveness in diversity. Thus with or without an enlightened leader, Singaporeans will find the means to sort the demographic challenge and the geopolitical challenge.
Meanwhile, just 90 miles from Florida there is another island whose population is getting ready for a great transition. Cubans have yet to see the departure of their leader, but they are getting ready to brave a political hurricane season that started around Christmas and will most likely outlast Cuba’s leadership.
And while economic development is not one of the achievements of the Cuban revolution, education has oddly been. Cubans have the greatest level of schooling, the lowest level of illiteracy, and higher reading and math proficiency scores than most countries in Latin America.
Cuba's macroeconomic profile, however, reminds us of that of Singapore in the late 1950s. Income per capita was $500 for Singapore while it is $5,747 for Cuba today. Uruguay a country that lodges one third of the population of Cuba posts a per capita income of $13,808. Cuba has 35 telephones per 1000 inhabitants. This is fewer than TV sets in 1958. And while the Mariel Free trade Zone promises to act as a development pole, much remains to be done in terms of defining the operational plan for this project.
One then wonders why is there such a brouhaha about Cuba and so many eager travelers to Havana a city that seems to be about to crumble, populated with antique cars and hotels that lack air conditioning. The answer to this question lies in Miami, a city that has gone from a lazy retirement nest for snowbird Americans to the largest art market in the world in about 30 years.
Income per capita in Miami has tripled. High rises, museums and other cultural venues have mushroomed and the quality of education has consistently improved over the last 10 years. In Miami lives and thrives a population of Cuban ancestry that incarnates the best of both banks of the Rio Grande: education, work ethic, creativity and gusto to excel.
These second and third generation Cuban Americans are ready to invest, consult and cooperate with the land of their ancestors as soon as the U.S. allows them to do so. And these Millennials and C’s represent part of the cultural tsunami that The Economist believes to be redefining what mainstream Americans are.
With their multiculturalism, bilingualism and global thinking, Cuban Americans will represent the greatest development boost to the post Castro Cuba. And this precisely is what brings together the tale of Singapore and Cuba: highly educated and driven people!!!
Also by Beatrice Rangel in her Latin America from 35,000 Feet series
Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.
For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.
You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.