Tale of two cities, two leaders

I refer to the comparisons made by Robert Yeo between Fidel Castro and Lee Kuan Yew (Weekend Today, 7-8 Jun 2008). Robert points first to the fact that both gentlemen succeeded in maintaining the sovereignty of small island nations in the midst of bigger, hostile neighbours. What Robert forgot to mention was that while Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore sat in close proximity to the military presence of the world’s greatest superpower, Fidel’s Cuba had to and managed to hold its own against that same superpower.

While it is well known that Castro fought and won the war by himself, what is less recognised is the fact that Lee’s victory came on the back of British military might. So while Castro’s victory might be unexpected, that of Lee’s cannot be doubted given the overwhelming support from the British.

The gulf in outcome between Singapore and Cuba has been attributed to a contrast in ideologies – that of socialism for Fidel Castro and pragmatism for Lee Kuan Yew. If extreme stupidity is how we would characterise Fidel Castro’s socialism, then the equivalent for Lee Kuan Yew’s pragmatism would simply be that of not being extremely stupid. So Lee Kuan Yew didn’t turn out to be extremely stupid, did he?

While Castro ruled without the ballot box, Lee Kuan Yew ruled by shifting the ballot box around or by combining several smaller ones into bigger ones to his advantage.

Cuba is poor because Cuba didn’t have the millions of hard working, enterprising Chinese that Lee Kuan Yew had. If we were to swop Lee Kuan Yew with Fidel Castro, would Cuba have prospered under Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore gone into demise without him? We only have to look at Hong Kong to know that Singapore would have succeeded just the same without Lee Kuan Yew. We also can look at all the other non-socialist Carribean and South American nations to know that Fidel Castro wasn’t the reason why their economies have languished. We can also look towards China today to see how a socialist society can still prosper under the toil of a billion hardworking Chinese.

If Lee Kuan Yew is deemed as the champion of change while his compatriot Mr Castro is not, then there would be hundreds of champions of change with only North Korea’s Kim Jong II to accompany Mr Castro as the only other non-champion.

In the end, we are left to wonder why the pre-eminence of Lee Kuan Yew can only be illuminated by a comparison with Mr Castro. Is it because Lee Kuan Yew’s achievement shines only in comparison with the lowest of the lowest? Or is it because they do indeed belong to the same league?


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