On today’s date in 1960, Fidel Castro’s Cuban government nationalized all but two foreign banks operating within the country, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and the Bank of Nova Scotia (now Scotiabank).
Despite this opportunity for two of Canada’s banks to operate in Cuba, both banks would eventually close after they were unable to compete with Che Guevara’s Banco Nacional de Cuba. By the end of the year, RBC had sold its interests to Cuba’s central bank for $8.8 million USD.
The nationalization of Cuba’s banking system was among many nationalization orders made throughout the fall of 1960.
According to the 1997 book, Canada-Cuba Relations: The Other Good Neighbor Policy, there were five foreign banks operating in Cuba, including the Bank of Nova Scotia, in 1957.
By 1959, the Cuban Revolution had ushered in a new wave of Communism. The following year, the Bank of Nova Scotia signed an agreement resulting in the sale of its operations to Cuba’s central bank.
“There is no doubt that Canadian companies were given preferential treatment by the revolutionary government,” writes co-authors John Kirk and Peter McKenna.
“In the TV interview Castro was asked about the Canadian banks. … He said that the two Canadian banks, through their head offices, were rendering important services to the revolution, and therefore were excluded from nationalization, confiscation or intervention.”