Cuba: Everywhere a Sign

Tu ejemplo vive; tus ideas perduran

Your example lives; your ideas last.”  Che Guevara was an Argentinian who played a major part in the Cuban Revolution. Like Bangkok, Cubans revere their leaders by placing large billboards and signs throughout the country. Until my trip to Cuba, I had known very little about Che. But one must remember that the information communicated to our tour group was by a national tour guide who works for the Cuban government. In fact, all tour companies and many of the hotels are run by the government.

El partido no es el prebenda, es sacrificio

The Party is not a privilege; it is a sacrifice.  Before our trip, I did not know very much about Cuba’s turbulent history. I ordered a book (Cuba: A History by Hugh Thomas UK) when I returned, so that I could read more about it as I believe our wonderful guide could not freely speak her mind.

Revolución es: No mentir jamás ni violar principios éticos.

Original quote: “Revolution is a sense of history, is changing everything that must be changed, it is full equality and freedom, is being treated and treating others as human beings is to emancipate ourselves and our own efforts, is to challenge powerful forces inside and outside the dominant social and national, is defending values ​​that are believed to cost of any sacrifice, is modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism is fighting with audacity, intelligence and realism is never lying or violating ethical principles is a profound conviction that there is no force in the world capable of crushing the power of truth and ideas.


Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. According to Wikipedia, the CDR are “the eyes and ears of the Revolution,” a network of neighborhood committees. Dotted through Cuba were buildings which held these initials. From what I have read on the Internet (the subject never arose during our tour), these committees report suspicious activity, unauthorized meetings, and defiant attitudes toward the government.

Te vemos cadia dia, y puro nino el como un hombre, Che Comandante , amigo.

“We see you every day, pure like a child or like a pure man, Commandant Che.”  We only encountered a few “checkpoints” along  the highway but none where our bus was stopped. L- , our guide, told us that all government employees, who must carry a black license plate, are always stopped at the checkpoints. 

Estudio, Trabajo, Fusil

“Study, Work, Rifle” According to the Miami Herald (2002): 

The phrase is not just the political motto for Cuba’s Communist Youth  Union. It has also been the center of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s hope for  the future of Communism on the island: the interlocking of education  and political indoctrination.

The Revolution is not on the lips, to live it, the revolution is carried in the heart, to die for it.

Does it all sound a bit intimidating to you? Other than the signage, I never felt the government’s presence looming. The Cuban people are very friendly and are always interested in learning from what states we came. Surely I would visit there again.

Daily Gratitude: seeing all the Hurricane Sandy volunteers at the senior center; pumpkin pancakes; the organically fed roast pork that I can smell throughout the house

© Teresita Abad Doebley All rights reserved 2009-2012.


104 thoughts on “Cuba: Everywhere a Sign

  1. I really love the way your posts flowed so well with each picture. I would also like to point out to some people that we need to stop treating democracy vs. communism as a battle of good vs. evil. They are just two different approaches to running a nation. To be honest, look at the mess we have in America at the moment in a political system we force down the throats of other nations. Its almost as if we are discriminating another system just becuase it is different.

  2. Loved this. The ‘naivety’ of your photos matches to perfection the naivety of the propaganda. I mean this in a really good way. It’s too easy to take a perfect pic and not get the feeling at all.
    I have wanted to go to Cuba for ages. Thanks for all the pre-reading.

  3. Very interesting, thanks for posting. I have been to Cuba a couple of times. It’s fascinating to talk to the local people and try to figure out how much of what they tell you is what they actually believe.

    • Boy, you should have tried figuring that out before the Revolution, when Cuba was basically U.S United Fruit Company’s private planatation! 🙂 Peasents starved to death every year. White descendents of a European empire owned the rest of the land – they came running to Miami, so the CIA could help them get it back.
      I imagine it’s quite a feat to allow perfect democracy when you are a small island 90 miles from a Superpower that keeps trying to assainate your president and strangles you with economic sanctions. I’d restrict people too.
      In the US, the CIA doesn’t restrict. You just disapear one day.
      We’ll never know if real Communism works, because it’s never existed. The United States disrupts every effort and forces military defense.
      I wonder how much longer we’ll allow Hugo Chavez to live. He keeps all the oil we used to control and uses it for the public!
      They just don’t make Banana Republics like they used to. It’s impossible to good help south of the border these days.
      Oh well, we always have Haiti.

      P.S. This is political satirte: Peace! 😉

      Really nice blog – thanks for your work.

  4. I think it is true for all places and times that “You do what you can where you are with what you have.”

    I was lucky enough to go to Cuba ten years ago and these signs brought it all back. Yes, there was the signs and some armed guards and checkpoints, but I rarely even thought about it. It was the people who talked proudly, not about the politics but about their country, their people, their sense of worth in who they were that makes Cuba so fascinating. (I must admit that I am afraid of commercialization there. I am afraid it will take all the magic away but I also know that people rise above the government and/or industry.)

    Thank you for bringing back the beautiful enchanting memories.

    Isn’t it interesting while it may seem extreme and odd to some, that all of that is just a normal part of life? I can think of many things in our daily lives that would have the same feeling to other people in other cultures. Got me thinking…thanks.

  5. Thanks for your photos. People generally tend to view reality through their own lens. Many who have been brought up in a society that, for the past 50 years, have spread mainly half-truths and blatant lies about Cuba will, understandably, see Cuba and their government as ‘evil’. Others who have obtained information from sources other than the US mainstream media tend to have a different view. Bob (Marley) in “Get Up Stand up” said “you can fool some people sometimes but you can’t fool all the people all the time”. History will show the truth about the great contribution that the Cuban government and people have made to modern society. Listen to what Nelson Mandela has to say about Cuba and you will get a glimpse of the truth about Cuba. Thanks again.

  6. Somehow I find this old style of propaganda comforting. It’s so obvious that it’s easy to dismiss. The modern propaganda of the western world is far more advanced and therefore scary, using psychology and linguistics in order to manipulate and manufacture consent from its people. Somehow knowing that they have no choice in how their country is run seems better than the illusion of choice. That’s how I see it anyway 🙂

    Great post, thanks for sharing, love the imagery 🙂


  7. Enjoyed your blog. Good to see stuff that challenges widespread conceptions on WordPress.

    It has to be said, much of the poverty has been caused by the US-enforced trade embargos…

    Contrary to some badly-made point (in the comments not the blog), the artwork is great.

    • Billy–thank you, thank you. I wasn’t pushing propaganda or glorifying socialism. I simply was attracted to the artwork and then became curious. Yes, it is spurring widespread conceptions, as you say, but, sadly, I had to delete some offensive remarks!

  8. The place just doesn’t look inviting AT ALL. Sorry but its mystery and art are completely lost on me. It looks sad and dark and repressive. I love the two Cuban women I work with but they state they will NEVER go back—NEVER.

        • Please don’t go to Cannes!
          I sure never suggested it – I just responded to the comment by the blogger above, who condemmed the entire nation of Cuba to be dark, repressive, sad, uninviting, void of mystery and with – oh, dagger in the heart! – bad art. A remarkably strong opinion, I mean statement, for one based soley on some photos. Oh, wait…and by some absent friends, two Cuban loyalists who will “NEVER go back – NEVER!” Ah, the generation that spent over sixty years forming this kind of American opinion. The kind that will support denying food to Cuba’s children, tractor parts to its farmers, medicine to its doctors, and tools to repair Havana’s irreplaceble old buildings.

          I sure as hell didn’t mean YOU, PP.

          PS Plus, they won’t hug you in Cannes. If your accent is poor, they will laugh.
          But if your Spanish is poor, Cuban children will clap for you annd call out “Viva, Flora-pusher! Bueno!”

  9. Cuba is a very special place. Havana – beautiful yet crumbling, held together by cinder blocks and chicken wire. The people; full of joy.The revolution just a small chapter in an astounding history. Visit the Santeria Museum in Havana, spend an afternoon in the massive cemetery that keeps 2 million souls, go to the 15th century fort on the Malecon and look for the giant turtle shells that have floated there for hundreds of years, then cross the street and have fried chicken and a cold beer from a street vender for 2 pesos. Cuba is a very special place.

  10. Gosh, I dont know what propaganda is worse…being bombarded with Big Macs on buildboards in the U.S. or signs praising your own country’s political leaders. I pick the the Big Mac…they will atleast feed your dog.
    Artistically, the signs are stenciled nightmares…but might charm the average eye with their notion of being “naively” painted. Interesting snapshot of Cuba.

      • Earwax – I’m sorry but I just laughed out loud. The U.S. just spent 6 billion dollars on an election, a large portion going to ads praising political leaders. I don’t mean to be rude but your days as an art critic are numbered. Those naive stenciled nightmares are poignant and beautiful, a chapter in the story of a people who live life in a way you will never understand. And who feeds their dog Big Macs? The third world obviously is not for you. Me – I’ll take the feral dog who followed me around the cemetery in Havana, burying the pieces of bread I gave her.

  11. I could not live with that constant mind-bending, brain melting garbage. They have made “gods” out mere men who have done nothing but ruin that country and made poorer the people. Castro, Hugo Chavez, and ….Obama are all one in the same.

  12. Very interesting indeed. They should maybe stop glorifying the 59 revolution. They need something new. A new Che, a new young leader. Not to overthrow communism, but to make it better. Interested in Nagorno-Karabagh? Come to my blog.

  13. This was very interesting. My parents actually fled from Cuba during the revolution with my grandparents (they were both like 3 years old). Ever since I learned this I have been very interested in learning about how Cuba is today, everything I heard when I was little was negative. I’ve heard things like they do not have the internet and such, but your photos were very interesting to see as well. Thanks for sharing!

  14. I live in the U.S., and I am a victim of U.S. government harassment. Just as the sign says about the neighbors watching everything the people do, that’s what’s happening to me. I’m watched by a committee of community watchers. It’s happening here in the U.S. Don’t think that this isn’t going on in the U.S. It’s happening to a lot of Americans! A country that is supposed to have so much freedom!

  15. My father is from Cuba and he never discusses the revolution with me. The family left in the early days and though they tried to instill some of the culture in me, I rejected it for Americanism. However, I still have an interest in the culture and having been on regular trips to Thailand and seeing the near worship of the king leaves me with a reference towards Castro. Most Cubans loathe him in Miami and it is easy to see why. Any time I see someone with a Che shirt I am stunned by their ignorance. Great pics, v. vivid.

  16. These are some really cool photos. I always found it amazing that propaganda can be so compelling and intriguing, even in another language. The images are always so powerful, and even if they don’t convey the same message across cultures and languages, they still convey a message, and provoke thought. Very nice post

  17. I would like to visit cuba before all these signs are replaced by mcdonald’s and all commercial advertising, It’s just about what you are used to if you grow up anywhere else you think it’s normal to be inundated all your life by signs,billboards,tv,magazine ect. corporate advertising convincing you to pursue a certain consumer lifestyle

  18. Cuba has been a long-time fascination of mine. How can there be this gigantic island, 90 miles away, that is completely forbidden? I’ve often thought of translating that idea into a theme for one of my SF stories.
    Great blog, great photos … I sure hope the island opens up one day!

    • Keith–while I would love to go there again and be free to travel where I want, I do have concerns for the possibility of the negative changes. Thanks for the visit–Cuba is a photographer’s haven/heaven!

      • Over the years I’ve tried to read all the books and watch all the videos I could find, but that just doesn’t compare to the real thing. How can you smell Cuban pork or feel the Caribbean heat from a travel guide. Alas, unless change happens quickly … and I fear it won’t … I may have to wait until I’m retired to go. And that’s sad, because I love the Mediterranean and Colonial architecture, not to mention the old American cars.

      • When I saw Before Night Falls and began reading Reinaldo Arenas’ beautiful and poetic vignettes, I wanted to travel there even more. It’s funny when Julian Schnabel put down his brush and picked up the camera, I think I love his work even more!

  19. Fascinating – thanks for sharing those signs (and translations) – I would agree they seem intimidating to our eye, but I imagine common place to the locals.

  20. It’s such a strange difference from our billboards about silly TV shows or shopping malls. Let’s you know our life here is quite cushioned. This “interlocking of education and political indoctrination” is the idea that scares me most. I just can’t imagine a life in which my little kid is trained to operate and navigate the very adult world of politics!

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