The Royal Bank of Canada is among the biggest banks in the world. It began operating in Britain’s Caribbean colonies in the late 1800s and had branches there before Western Canada.
During the 1898-1902 occupation of Cuba RBC was the preferred banker of US officials. (National US banks were forbidden from establishing foreign branches until 1914.) By the mid-1920s the “Banco de Canada”, as it was popularly known, had 65 branches in Cuba.
In 1925 it published an ad in Canadian magazines with a map of the Western Hemisphere with dots denoting the Royal’s presence throughout the Caribbean and South America. The headline read, “A bank with 900 branches: at home and abroad.”
RBC had ties to Canadian militarism. In 1917 it loaned $200,000 ($3.5 million today) to unpopular Costa Rican dictator Federico Tinoco just as he was about to flee the country. A new government refused to repay the money, saying RBC knew the public despised Tinoco and that he was likely to steal it. “In 1921,” the book Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy notes, “in Costa Rica, [Canadian vessels] Aurora, Patriot and Patrician helped the Royal Bank of Canada satisfactorily settle an outstanding claim with the government of that country.”
Farther afield, the Royal followed Canadian troops to eastern Russia after Czar Nicholas II was overthrown and the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917. It opened an office in Vladivostok and convinced Canadian commanders to post eight soldiers around their branch.
In 1957 RBC (with eight other banks) financed a $40 million ($350 million today) World Bank loan to the Congo, then a Belgian colony.
During the last stage of British rule RBC director and former governor of the Bank of Canada, Graham Towers helped write the Bank of Jamaica law of 1960 and that country’s Banking Law of 1960, which became the model for the rest of the newly independent English Caribbean.
After independence RBC was targeted by nationalist movements in the Caribbean. The Student Society of the University of Guyana organized a May 1966 demonstration in front of the Royal’s office in Georgetown (the march also passed Alcan’s office and the Canadian High Commission). In April 1970 demonstrators stormed RBC’s main office in Port of Spain, Trinidad, as part of an antiracist nationalist upsurge.
When the Sandinistas toppled the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship in 1979, the Royal held 15 percent ($42.8 million) of Nicaragua’s private bank debt. On CBC’s the Fifth Estate, Somoza explained “that the attitude of the Canadian bank has been very profitable for Nicaragua.”
Conversely, in the lead up to the October 1983 US invasion, Grenada’s socialist prime minister, Maurice Bishop, accused the Royal of “promoting destabilization” in the economy.
In recent years the Royal has grown its operations in the Gulf Cooperation Council. In 2013 RBC President Gordon Nixon was made co-chair with his Excellency Abdulla Saif Ali Slayem Al Nuaimi of the Canada – United Arab Emirates Business Council.
According to documents released in the Panama Papers leak, RBC registered 847 companies and private foundations in the offshore tax haven of the Bahamas between 1990 and May 2016.
RBC is tied to various foreign-policy players. Royal Bank Financial Group executive Robert B. was a director of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.