Many believe it was Fidel Castro’s brilliant use of propaganda, not military prowess, which led his army to victory in 1959. Castro used pirate radio broadcasts, public displays, and interviews with journalists to plead his case and to make his military force appear much larger and more powerful than it actually was. Perhaps the most pivotal act occurred in 1957 when Fidel persuaded New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews to interview him in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. This interview produced both domestic and international sympathy for Fidel’s revolutionaries and dramatically changed the future of the Revolution and ultimately Cuba itself.
But propaganda didn’t end with the Revolution. Today, the Cuban government controls all magazines, newspapers, and broadcasting facilities. Billboards and graffiti with pro-Cuba sentiment litter the landscape, and strict law enforcement and community groups are used to minimize the expression of conflicting views.
Here are just a few examples of the propaganda we saw during our time in Cuba:
Fidel Castro’s image can be seen in all corners of the country. It is a constant reminder of the Revolution and what occurred 55 years ago. Here, Fidel’s image overlooks a Havana market.
Che Guevara is a major figure in the Cuban Revolution and has developed an almost god-like mystique since his death in 1967. Known simply as “Che”, many consider him a martyr and a symbol of self-sacrifice. His iconic image is seen everywhere in Cuba, even in a random parking lot!
Anti-American and anti-embargo sentiment can be seen throughout the country. Cubans are taught and reminded frequently that the United States is dangerous, corrupt, dishonest, and hypocritical. Here, government sentiment about “El Bloqueo,” the US embargo, is on display.
In Havana, the old United States embassy is now a U.S. “Special Interests” building, and it has been the site of propaganda between the two countries. In 2006, the US delivered anti-Castro messages via an electronic billboard. In response, Fidel erected a “wall” of 138 Cuban flags to block out the billboard. Known as the Anti-Imperialist Plaza and a site for anti-American activity, the flags continue to fly today.
People are constantly reminded of the country’s history and its socialistic values. The Revolution is often painted as a battle against capitalism and all that it stands for. The slogan on this sign reads, “Socialism or death”.
Agriculture and hard work is of great value and is promoted through billboards and graffiti across the country. This one says, “We must not rest while there is a single hectare of land not worked. –Raúl Castro Ruz”
Youth are of great value and are seen as the future of the Revolution. Here, a wall quotes Che Guevara as saying, “The clay of our work is the youth.”
The Revolution was established with values and attitudes that promote a strong sense of Cuban unity and steadfastness. These values permeate the culture today. This sign reads, “The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth. -Che”
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) are a vast network of neighborhood committees responsible for being “the eyes and ears” of the Revolution. The committees promote social welfare and have the duty to monitor the activities of every person on their respective blocks and keep an updated file on each of them.