Propaganda Within Fidel Castro's Regime

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is an important Cuban politician renown for his charismatic leadership of Cuba through a portion of its revolution till earlier 2008. Though he was both hated an loved before the revolution, he saw the significance of propaganda and used it well. Within the time of his regime he used it to come to power through the masses and to unify Cuba.

Table of Contents
1 Use of Propaganda
2 Importance of Propaganda
3 Examples of Propaganda
3.1 Speech
3.2 Slogan
3.4 Types of Propaganda
4 Results of Propaganda
4.1 Rise to Power
4.2 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest
An example of proganda used by Castro. This translates to "To fight against the impossible things and to win"
An example of proganda used by Castro. This translates to "To fight against the impossible things and to win"

1 Use of Propaganda

Propaganda is the manipulation of facts to impress upon the reader different emotions, or to reach a different conclusion from the facts presented. Through his use of slogans, fallacies (such as red herring, plain folks, appeal to pity and false dichotomy), and charisma the people of Cuba allowed Castro to remain in power despite the economical hardships produced from his regime.

2 Why was propaganda important?

In order to answer the question of why propaganda was important to Castro’s regime, one must first ask the question: What is propaganda? And what propaganda are we talking about? To answer the first question, propaganda is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary: “The systematic propagation of a given doctrine or of allegations reflecting its views and interests” (992). In that regard, that propaganda is the spreading of a certain doctrine reflecting its own values, Castro seems to have used propaganda of many types. Thus, to give a description on how Cubans viewed Castro before his use of propaganda would be simple: the fact that Castro was only known as a young man who was a good athlete, born to a self-made Spanish farmer who was born in 1927 (Keen/Haynes, 437). Since his enrollment to Havana University in 1945, Castro was a well-known orator and organizer for that school’s student politics (Balfour, 24). To answer the second question, Castro had begun to use persuasion and propaganda of sorts during his enrollment to Havana University, as a member of one of the student political parties, and can be quoted as saying to the press in 1947 that “Let us (the Cuban people) not be borne down by the pessimism and disillusion spread over the last few years by false leaders, those merchants of the blood of the martyrs” (Balfour, 25). This is most definitely the spreading of a certain ideal, and the fact that it was sent through the Cuban press, it can be considered as propaganda. Essentially, Castro was down casting Batista, who was the militaristic dictator during this period in Cuba’s history (Keen/Haynes, 436). This style of propaganda was obviously well received by some, as it allowed him to later gain support for the July 26th movement. However, prior to 1949, Castro was denounced as a member of the UIR, a particularly violent student political body (Balfour, 29) and could not denounce those accusations. Also, he was criticized by the MSR (Movimiento Socialista Revolucionario) as the speech he gave to the press was somewhat a jab at the MSR itself (Balfour, 25). However, he was able to garner enough support to lead a small insurrectionist movement through an attack on the Moncada Barracks on July 26th, 1953. The attack itself was a failure, but what occurred after the attack was more important than the initial result (Keen/Hayes, 437). Ironically, one of the reasons the attack failed was due to lack of a large public support, as Castro only assumed people would flock to him and support his military action (Balfour, 35). What was important was that after Castro’s attack failed, it created the July 26th movement. The movement was quite creatively called the “26th of July movement”, and was popular to many Cubans that thought Batista should be ousted (Keen/Hayes, 437). The movement was based around the fact that Castro defended his attack on the barracks in a famous speech during his trial for attacking the barracks. This speech is known as the “History Will Absolve Me” speech. This speech was later used by supporters of the movement as propaganda, in the form of pamphlets of the speech, as an example to Cubans as to what Castro aimed to change in the Cuban government (Keen/Hayes, 437). Public support of Castro increased, due to the fact that the Cuban public was conditioned to violent revolutions, such as that of Batista, and the revolution that Castro was heading seemed peaceful and promised much to the benefit of Cubans (Balfour, 38). For example, his very speech says that “Cuba may continue forever in the same or worse condition” (Castro) if the Cubans didn’t do anything against the “conservative elements of the nation, who welcome any oppressive regime, any dictatorship, any despotism” (Castro). This is obviously a call-to-arms to Cubans, and the Cubans seem to have responded well, as Castro was able to get enough popular support to drive out Batista in 1959 (Keen/Haynes, 438). This was also due to the fact that in 1958, Castro had a significant force and was sufficiently organized to create and maintain a radio station in the Sierra Maestra, a small mountain chain in Eastern Cuba. This radio station, called Radio Rebelde, was used to further spread Castro’s agenda as a political ruler through regular reports of Castro’s ideas and military engagements. This was starkly different from Pro-Batista propaganda, and the public only supported Castro more (Balfour, 46). At this point, Castro has gone from a political nobody to a man the Cuban people can entrust with a revolution against a dictatorship. This popular support seemed to have stayed with Castro during his regime, as only those who did support him stayed in the country. Those who disagreed with Castro left the country shortly after he came into power (Keen/Hayes, 440), as expected from a quick, populist revolution. Thus, only those who sufficiently believed in Castro’s regime stayed after the heavy use of Anti-Batista propaganda in the form of radio and pamphlets. However, even today there are still Cuban refugees who attempt to leave Cuba through the use of small makeshift boats or planes, desperate Cubans who want to get out of Cuba (Keen/Hayes, 452). Overall, though, most Cubans stayed in Cuba not because of propaganda, but because of the benefits of employment, controlled prices on necessities like food and rent, the fact that many Cubans own their homes rather than being on a mortgage, illiteracy dropped significantly, and superior health care to other Latin-American countries (Keen/Hayes, 446), among others. Many Cubans were content to live in Cuba due to all of these improvements. Propaganda, then, played its most significant factor while Castro was unknown and his revolution needed to start up. Most Cubans didn’t need further encouragement by the government that their lives were good. They already were better than they were before Castro’s regime. Propaganda allowed Castro to garner support that he used in a revolution that, in itself, garnered public support due to a drastic change in government. Propaganda was of import in Castro’s regime, but mostly as a key that started the engine of the Cuban Revolution.

3 Examples of Propaganda

3.1 Speeches
The major themes Castro uses in his speeches addressed to the public are:

  • The control of power they have over themselves,¹
  • The United States are the cause of their failure, ²
    The image of Castro's brave face would have struck pride in the hearts of Cubans.
    The image of Castro's brave face would have struck pride in the hearts of Cubans.
  • Cuba is trying to move forward, but the bad conditions of Cuba prevent this, ³
  • Talking of the public's economic struggles as if they were his own personal issues,
  • Other groups (imperialists, are impeding Cuba's progress into a developed country,

3.2 Slogans
Castro's use of propaganda reached beyond the main ideas in his speeches to the Cuban public, United States officials, UN and various other groups. A common method of gaining support for his regime was the use of short catch phrases that inspire pride, hope, and love to their nation.

A common method of spreading slogans was the use of posters. Cheap to produce, and easy to remember, slogans are an ideal way to gather support.

  • "The Revolution Begins Now,"⁴
  • "Fatherland, or death; we shall win,"
  • "We will be like Che,"⁵
  • "To Fight Against the Impossible Things, and to Win,"

3.3 Media
The media proved a strong method of increasing the public's love of Castro and expanding Castro web of propaganda. Through interviews, movies, and articles written on Castro his achievements could be inflated and his failures lessened to better improve his image as a strong leader to the Cuban public.

3.4 Types of Propaganda
  • Red herring: misleading the audience, or arguer, by presenting facts that are irrelevant to the arguement
  • The appeals: the 'facts' represented are not necessarily related to the topic, instead they are used to invoke particular emotions that would lead to a decision based on these emotions.
  • Plain folk: represents the speaker as part of the public and presents ideas that are common sense to the public. Creates confidence from the public.
  • False Dichotomy: Presents an "either this, or this" statement that presents no middle ground when, in fact there is the possibility of one
Several other types exist but these are the most common, along with the use of stereotyping, slogans, and omitting the entire truth/ giving vague facts.

4 Results of Propaganda

Throughout Castro’s rise to power and throughout his rule Propaganda was excruciatingly important, and successful. It was used constantly, from his time as a college student to the day he stepped down, and each time he used it, he gained prestige and popularity. The movements caused by the propaganda were not commonly as successful, but the failures were not due to the lack of influence in the propaganda, but more to the impossibility of the movement.

4.1 Rise to Power
To gain momentum for his July 26th Movement, Castro spread the ideal that nothing can stop those who fight for their rights. These people had rights that they wanted protected, so the people were motivated towards fighting this revolution. Many people joined the force with the courage and determination needed to win. On July 26th, 1953 Castro led a group of rebels to attack the Moncada army barracks, with them having the firm hope that they could capture it and take control of the radio waves to broadcast the revolution. They failed, having sustained heavy casualties, and losing Castro as a captive. As Castro was put on trial, he gave his speech that made him a hero. He spoke so assuredly at his defense speech about the revolution being successful and that he would be absolved by history, that he was praised as a hero. (Hampsey) (Keen/Haynes, 437)
His speech while on trial was then spread throughout the country, giving him popularity among the masses. Many people joined the cause, giving him forces to work with. After being released from prison he had to work from Mexico, sending others in to motivate the masses to rebellion. It not only motivated the masses, but also helped the women join in the cause. They passed out thousands of copies of the speech, bringing knowledge to the people and power to the women. (Keen/Haynes, 437)
In 1956 Frank País spread the Propaganda through Santiago de Cuba, building strength from within the stronghold of Cuba. He even intercepted, and broadcasted over Roland Masferrer (a pro-Batista leader)’s speech. This led to much growth in the resistance and tension in Batista’s realm. Santiago de Cuba also became a major help for the resistance giving much support in munitions as well as food, shelter and medical atte ntion. (Hampsey)
"Che" Helping the resistance in the Sierra Maestra
"Che" Helping the resistance in the Sierra Maestra

Later that year “Che” Guevara served to help the Guajiros (poor squatters who lived off of the sugarcane harvest for about 4 months of the year) to improve their lifestyle so that they would join the resistance. This tactic worked marvelously, he was able to start a newspaper, broadcast radio signals, and send the word of the resistance throughout Cuba, giving much strength to the rebellion. (Hampsey)

The United States Press also helped massively, as Herbert L. Matthews published an article on the Cuban resistance. In it the people were led to believe that Castro had a large organized force, when in reality, he didn’t have much. By making the force seem bigger, more organized and more of a threat to Batista, it strengthened his numbers, capital, arsenal and popularity. It also made Batista rethink the threat that they imposed. Batista wanted to rid Cuba of the rebels, and so he used U.S. supplied weaponry to attack them, which caused minimal damage to Castro, but caused Batista to lose the support of the United States because of an agreement that they had with the U.S. This eventually caused the toppling of Batista, and the rise of Castro. (Keen/Haynes, 438)

4.2 Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest
There were many different instances in which Castro used propaganda after rising to power, but most importantly was how he used it to influence the 10 million ton sugar harvest. Though it was a failure in so many ways, (increasing the sugar monoculture, dependency on the sugar, slight decreased morality, etc.) it showed how Castro could spread propaganda and get something done. Everything he could do to spread that he wanted that harvest, that Cuba wanted it, even needed it, he did. He gave speeches, sent it throughout the country that this needed to happen. From this, the harvest was great. There were thousands of workers that worked overtime, that went out of the way to do this great labor, to harvest the sugar. He mobilized the whole nation towards this one goal, and thought they didn’t attain it, they did bring together the nation to work together to do great things. It was through the propaganda that they were motivated into doing this. (Keen/Haynes, 441-442)

5 Conclusion

Castro's regime used various methods of spreading propaganda, including through slogans, speeches and the media, such as radio and the newspaper. It was very important to Castro's regime because it gave a start to the revolution and pushed it along. The propaganda was one of the major factors in the victory of the revolution, without it there would not have been enough support from Cuba or the United States to carry it out completely. It was also used to help push forward the economic and other reforms later on during Castro's rule.


¹ Castro, Fidel " Our Criminals are Leaving to Their Allies in the US"; Havana Domestic Service, May 1st, 1980 Jose Marti Revolution Square, Cuba
² Castro, Fidel "Appearance of Castro Before the Press"; CMQ Television Program, 1959 Cuba.
³ Castro, Fidel "Castro Says Cuba Now Kennedy's Problem"; Havana Cadena de la Libe, 1961 Havana, Cuba.
⁴ Castro, Fidel "Fidel Castro Speaks to Citizens of Santiago" Cospedes Park Santiago, 1959 Cuba.
⁵ Castro, Fidel "Castro Speech at Pioneer Congress Reported", Havana Radio and Television Network, 1991 Cuba.


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