Propaganda During Castro's Regime


Propaganda was an important part of Fidel Castro's rise to control over Cuba and remained to be important during his regime. He spread propaganda in four distinct ways: through public speeches, over the radio, through visual creations, and through pamphlets. Each of these ways had a significant affect on creating the public opinion in favor of their leaders for so many years.

Propaganda Through Radio

Castro used the radio as a means of spreading his views and news prior to and during his regime. It was used prior to his regime, as it Radio Rebelde was created by Che Guevara on February 24, 1958, as a way to broadcast the news of the rebels progress during the Cuban Revolution. Posted in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, Che and four other rebels secretly broadcasted the station. (History-Radio Rebelde) In its early days the stations broadcasted for only small amounts of time. It played its theme song and provided brief reports on the revolution. Soon the station began taking a more political stand, denouncing Batista dictator-like style of governing and by broadcasting quotes from rebel leaders, such as Luis Orlando Rodriguez. (History-Radio Rebelde)

This video shows Che Guevara's first address to the Cuban people over the radio. It demonstrates the type of audio heard by the people as well as shows the effectiveness of radio communication.

When Fidel Castro officially came to power on January 1st, 1959, he used the station to address the people of Cuba. The station had been moved from the mountains to Palma Soriano, a city near the capital. During the 1960s the radio reached out to become a combination of 32 small stations- all of rebel influence. The station began regularly broadcasting at 7:00 and 9:00 pm on 20 meters, and at 8:00 and 10:00 on 40 meters. They all began with the hymn of the July 26th movement, a reminder to all Cubans that there was still work to be done and to stay focused on the goal of the movement. (Inside the Revolution, 175)

Castro used this method of communication to connect to the entire nation of Cuba in a time prior to mass media marketing. As an influential leader in Radio Rebelde, Castro was able to control the content that aired during broadcasting segments. (Cuba, 195) Thus a type of filter was cast over the information that reached Cuba’s masses. As Castro commented during the 1973 anniversary celebration of the station, “Radio Rebelde truly became our means of mass communication, to talk to the people, and it became a much listened to station. It was crucial for disseminating military information and played a key roll throughout the war…” (Cuba Journal)

Presently, Radio Rebelde is one of the largest and most widespread stations in Cuba, broadcasting news updates, sports alerts, and political segments. It has 44 transmitters, 891 kilowatts of broadcasting power, and reaches 98 percent of Cuba (History-Radio Rebelde.) The station broadcasts throughout the day and while he officially ruled, Fidel was an important part of Radio Rebelde.

Visual Propaganda

Castro used a large amount of visual propaganda to become well known during his regime. Castro used : Paintings, newspapers,speeches, television, books, signs, and posters that people of Cuba noticed daily. Castro had huge support from students, catholic priests and peasants from his propaganda campaign. Fidel also used his public image as a form of propaganda, he usually wore his suit when campaigning or telling speeches.( Robert E. Quirk 1993 Free Cuba Foundation) People of cuba worshiped and adored Castro that seeing him everywhere with his face on everything brought up his popularity and campaign votes because he was an Idol. Castro's "History Will Absolve Me Speech." during his near suicidal experience in the barraks, launched his revolutionary movement and granted him popularity with his campaign post revolution. ( Anthony Boadle, Fidel Castro 20th century revolution

English Translation- Free Thinking Batista Flees. This pictures shows a form of Castro's Visual propaganda. Getting rid of Batista was what was written on the sign. All of these people were apart of Castro's crowd.This also shows how many people were for Castro's and against Batista during his propagand times.

Public Speeches

Castro the individual
Castro’s transition to power was drastically smoother than revolutions previous that were usually bloodier. This was partly due to the fierceness and determination he had for the turn round of Cuba. He excited the imagination of the people, not just of Cuba but Latin America and Europe. His hopes were always set above the bar even when unrealistic, he still accomplished drastic change for Cuba.
His style was described as “colorful, extreme, flamboyant, and theatrical”(Bockman) He tended to behave different in appearance and behaviors. His fighting spirit and natural energy made him a leader people were willing to follow. He had the strong belief that if people have the will power to accomplish something than they are capable of moving mountains. Castro’s fighting personality inspired legends. For him, victory was always around the corner. Just as he commanded the rebels in the Sierra Maestra he was able to instill in his people an absolute certainty of ultimate victory. His speeches were piercing and displayed great literary skill.

“When men carry the same ideals in their hearts, nothing can isolate them-
neither prison walls nor the sod of cemeteries. For a single memory, a single spirit, a single idea, a single conscience, a single dignity will sustain them all.”
-History will absolve me, Fidel Castro

Castro’s public image
Castro held a very close relationship with the public. He gave frequent speeches, held meetings and had appearances on television, radio and various locations about Cuba. His unique style and orating skills created a link to the people of Cuba.

Castro almost always wore his soldier’s uniform, reminiscent of the guerilla war fought in the Sierra Maestra, with the purpose of projecting the image revolutionary intent. It was a constant reminder to the people that the revolution was on going. The uniform also sent out the message that Castro was a fighter for the people and that he was one of them. Castro fought for change in Cuba as he fought for the liberation of Cuba from Batista’s regime. Against his will Castro was viewed as infallible by many. He denounced this when he laid out all his mistakes in his speech, thoroughly exploring each decision and why it went wrong. Castro was viewed as both a “comrade, cuadillo and benefactor rolled in one,”(Balfour).

Speeches and public involvement
Earlier in Castro’s career his speeches were heavily dependent on rhetoric and with frequent allusions to the bible and literature as was the tradition for Hispanic leaders. His post revolutionary style, although no less impacting, was longer and more developed. They were more informational with less intention of arousing. His style was to create a connection to the audience and from there improvise depending on their mood. He projected almost constant energy that kept the crowd going alternating facts and jokes. He would interact with the crowd and answer to comments and concerns as he went in a conversational way. Castro made an effort to explain his intentions and decisions so the people could understand his view point. His speeches would address a broad range of topics that were all looked into in depth with allusions to common day things that established himself with the common person. In his speech to the metal workers in the 1967 he referenced the state produced ice cream brand Coppelia as an example of the deteriorating affects of capitalism on the quality of items.
Castro was constantly on the move traveling from one town to the next leading demonstrations, giving speeches, encouraging people and gathering crowds. His speeches lasted form an hour to half a day in length, the longest lasting seven and a half hours. On average he gave one speech every four days.

Jose Marti and Castro
Castro used the national legend and hero Jose Marti as a model of his intentions. He compared himself to Marti in spirit and philosophy. Jose Marti’s legend is deeply ingrained in Cuban culture so provided key motivation for support Castro’s regime. Castro repeatedly referenced Marti in his speeches and compared his struggles to that of Marti’s. Marti’s legacy was revitalized during Castro’s youth and strung a cord in the hearts of many Cubans. The image of Marti represented a strong band of romantic revolutionaries that created a strong sense of nationalism. Castro repeatedly linked himself with Marti in his speech “History will absolve me.” Castro had a way of staying close to the traditions of Cuban revolutionaries which gave him reliability.

Castro invoked strong feelings of nationalism through his fiery speeches that were intended to motivate people, despite being divided. He tried to incite the people to meet goals he laid out for them. By gaining the support he needed he was able to make drastic change.

When Castro arrived in Havana on the first day of his presidency of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform he used his power of persuasion to turn the people against those opposing him. He would openly denounce individuals and groups that opposed him. In that way he was able to bring the peoples power down on the few urban groups who refused to surrender in the guerilla war that opposed him.(Balfour)

Castro’s goals to take care of all the problems facing Cuba at once were impossible to tackle, without the mass cooperation and mobilization of the people. He created a huge movement with hopes to diversify the sugar monoculture and to gain a larger piece of business.

The victory at Playa Giron created a new wave of nationalism. The United States was the common enemy. Castro felt more confident of his support following the victory which led to his announcement that he was a Marxist. The people jumped in behind him as demonstrated in many of the popular songs of the time. They expressed their support because they were willing to follow Castro, the leader, instead of one political group or another.

Si las cosas de Fidel
Son cosas de buen marxista
Que me pongan en la lista
Que estoy de acuerdo con el.

“(If Fidel’s concerns are those of a good Marxist, put me down on the list, for I agree with him.)”(Balfour)

In the end of 1960 Castro once again emphasized the importance of full commitment to meet his objectives at this point turning a little more radical in his purpose.

“And we now repeat: No liberalism! No softening! A revolutionary nation, an organized nation, a combative nation, a strong nation, because these are the virtues that are required these days. And everything else is pure illusion, it would be to underestimate the task, underestimate the enemy, underestimate the historic importance of this period, underestimate the struggle that lies ahead of us.”
- Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro with Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuesgos in Havana (1959)

Propaganda through Literature

Whether it be pre-revolution or post-revolution, propaganda has played a monumental role in Cuban politics. It significantly helped Castro and his fellow revolutionaries rise to power, and maintain it thereafter. It has had the effect and ability to sway the Cuban population in Castro’s direction and persuade them that his ideology for governing is the best for them. A particularly important method of his appeal has been through the widespread distribution of literature mainly consisting of pamphlets sparking revolutionary patriotism (pre-revolution), and through articles and speeches aimed at maintaining his influence and control over Cuba (post-revolution).

Prior to the Cuban Revolution in 1959, two main types of literary propaganda spread by Castro were speeches and revolutionary writings (generally in the form of pamphlets). To begin, he delivered a speech that can be viewed as the necessary spark to instill the spirit of the revolution in the population (“History Will Absolve Me”- Delivered 1953). He delivered two other speeches afterwards, “The Revolution begins now” (delivered on January 3, 1959)[[#_ftn1|[1]]] and “When the people rule” (delivered on January 21, 1959)[[#_ftn2|[2]]]. His style and method of delivery was what made them so important and their impact on the people everlasting. With the exception of,
“History will Absolve Me” Castro delivered his speeches directly to the poor- the vast majority of the population as they were the group Castro intended to gain the attention of (his appeal), not for the rich and well off minority whose primary interests were to make money in Cuba. He focused his distributions of this literature towards the majority by making statements that would satisfy and please them. His aim was essentially to be a figure representative of this majority and thereby win their support.

“History Will Absolve Me”[[#_ftn3|[3]]]- This can be observed as Castro’s most famous and most widely remembered speech as it was transcribed and distributed in the form of a pamphlet after being delivered verbally in a court room. Castro gave this speech in 1953 in his defense for the attack on the Moncada Barracks. In the speech he covers just about every aspect that he believes is wrong with the current Cuban government. The key to his speech however is not that he points out what is wrong with government, but he points out self-interest and corruption has come to affect the majority of the Cuban population; he gives several examples such as the six hundred thousand Cubans without work, the farmers who hard on land, but are still unable to support themselves because they don’t own it, and the four hundred thousand industrial workers who have had their benefits revoked and pensions taken away, among others. He goes over every type of employment in Cuba and points out exactly what is wrong, this is how he creates his appeal and builds support among the people (his intended audience- everyone excluding the ruling elite). The true effect of the speech came into play when it was transcribed and distributed it helped his cause in winning support of the Cuban people.

”El Cubano Libre”[[#_ftn4|[4]]]- While in the Sierra Maestra mountain range, Che Guevara established a newspaper, “El Cubano Libre”, to serve the local area was meant to further expand revolutionary influence and spread Castro’s ideology.

Ever since coming to power in 1959 Castro and his regime have led efforts to increase the literacy rate in the public, with the creation of the Cuban Women’s Federation, the literacy rate jumped to 96%[[#_ftn5|[5]]], and thus propaganda through literature has had had an increasingly greater impact on the public. While much of the written and spoken propaganda has been authored by Fidel Castro himself, a fair amount has also been authored by his revolutionary partners, such as Ricardo Alarcón[[#_ftn6|[6]]] (President of National Assembly) and Felipe Pérez Roque[[#_ftn7|[7]]] (Foreign Minister). Likewise, the intent of the propaganda remains the same as it did in the pre-revolutionary years: to win and maintain the support of the Cuban public. As an example of this commitment to maintain support among the population, every year Castro delivers a speech on the anniversary of the revolution[[#_ftn8|[8]]].

The results of Castro’s use of propaganda (specifically through literature) can be seen as highly successful. His goal pre-revolution was to gather enough support to overthrow the Batista regime[[#_ftn9|[9]]]. He achieved this goal through the spread of propaganda by gaining support of the public after distributing his various speeches and writings to the general population. His result from the use of propaganda post-revolution can also be seen as very successful, being that his main goal is to maintain the support of the Cuban public, he has done so by never
failing to exert his influence upon the people and keep point of view and ideology firmly aligned with his.

[[#_ftnref3|[3]]] (Fidel Castro, “History will Absolve me”)
[[#_ftnref5|[5]]] (A History of Latin America pg. 446)
[[#_ftnref9|[9]]] (Balfour pg. 438)

Balfour Sebastian, . Castro:Profiles in Power. third. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman, 2009. Print.

Blockman, Larry James “The spirit of Moncada: Fidel Castro’s Rise to Power 1953-1959” 1984 assessed 9-2-09
Sweig, Julia E. Inside the Cuban revolution
Hugh Thomas. Cuba : The pursuit of freedo
Tabio, Pedro. Alvarez “History will Absolve me” 1975 Edetorial de ciencias sociales, Habana Cuba. Assessed 9-02-09