Unlike any other country in the world, billboards in Cuba do not actually try to sell you any products (probably because a. there are no products, and b. no one could afford them anyway). Instead billboards in Cuba consist of catchy slogans and generally a graphic of Che (occasionally Fidel) reminding people of their history, and providing rules and refrains to live by.
All of the cities I visited had slogans and signs painted on the side of buildings, and we passed many billboards located on the sides of the road as we travelled the main autopista out of Havana. These signs and their messages were endlessly interesting to me, and trying to catch them through a car windscreen provided quite a skill in timing as we zipped past on largely deserted highways and side roads.
Other signs I saw (but wasn’t quick enough to photograph) included the below sentiments:
El hombre que pierde la honor pierde todo (the man who loses honour loses everything)
Viva la revolución siempre (Live the revolution always)
Si ustedes triunfan habra milicias en Cuba (if you triumph there were militias in Cuba) Fidel Castro said about the peasant patrols in 1959
Hasta la victoria siempre (until the victory always)
Volverán (they will return) is the ongoing reminder of the Cuban campaign to release the Cuban 5 (now 2 remaining) imprisoned Cuban government agents arrested and imprisoned in the USA, accused of the crime of conspiracy to commit espionage. This message to end the injustice and return these men home to Cuba has been repeated and re-painted since they were imprisoned 15 years ago. An entire generation of Cubans has grown up with this story, and still today there are concerts, marches and demonstrations. Cuba does not forget.
Because there is not a lot of advertising (or logos, or non-government sponsored communication) around, it means that if you were for instance to wear a shirt with a slogan, everyone would read it, and then comment. I only realised this after wearing a Yo ♥ Cuba t-shirt one morning. I got a lot of people coming up to me saying “y mi tambien” (and me too) which I only realised was in reference to my shirt after about the 5th person. Prior to that I was wondering what the heck was going on…
This type of propaganda reinforces Cuba’s belief in itself – even as it is excluded from participating with much of the rest of the world. Cuba’s history and battles for independence are taught in school and Cubans are very aware of the resultant culture and cost of maintaining their beliefs.
Reinforcing the country’s friendship with Venezuela, there were even billboards pro-porting Cuba’s alliance in Chavez (then president of Venezuela), positioned strategically at the Che memorial in Santa Clara.
I found this type of messaging really interesting, and I wondered how each sign and message was chosen for particular areas of the country. I wonder how these signs and statements will change as Cuba continues to change under Raul.