Image: The amazing hills of Viñales
Aristotle said “nature abhors a vacuum”. Actually, while he said it in Greek, he based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something. Here in Cuba, there is almost no advertising.
Sure, sure, the rum I am drinking is in a glass with the Havana Club label, and walk down any street and you will see some doors of private residences with signage identifying the price of whatever it is that they are offering today (eggs, meals, leche de coco or pru). However, advertising as we would recognize it is completely absent. There are no marketing billboards. There are no newspaper flyers. There are no commercials on television.
What there are, and there are a lot, are politically-motivated slogans. For the most part, these are quotes: from Fidel, from Raúl, from Che and even from Albert Einstein. Occasionally, one will see something like Viva Fidel y Raúl
or Viva CDR which is not a direct quote. The CDRs are like block associations which keep an eye on everything and everyone and seem to be very much a part of the community, at least from the signage I am seeing.
But signage can be deceiving. When we arrived in La Habana, we noticed these political slogans, or phrases or consignas everywhere. Building walls are painted with them. White-washed brick fences have their own message. And where billboards exist, their purpose is of strengthening the revolution.
We took a day trip to Viñales, two hours west of La Habana to see the unique mountainous landscape, and saw slogans along the side of the highway, however they really became prolific in the country-side, with each village having its own white-washed rocks or bricks, Burma-shave style. This has been our experience here in the east of this small island country too. In the most rural of areas, these signs are reduced to one white-washed board nailed horizontally to a vertical post, each with its own valued message. While there are a lot of slogans in Santiago de Cuba, there are far more when one escapes the city into the rural villages and hamlets.
Perhaps it is just that we are traversing new ground at a more rapid pace that we are seeing more of them. Attempting to photograph them is a challenge as we pass by in a blur. I try to write them down as I see them, sometimes not capturing all the words, creating a meaningless jumble of Spanish.
Post note: I thought that I would ask my Cuban friends and acquaintances which slogans they remember best, and their response was edifying. Most couldn’t remember more than one or two, if that. My Havana-dwelling friend said that there aren’t any in Havana. I saw lots! The power of these messages reinforces the values of the revolution. In the absence of any advertising, this power is multiplied, and must be absorbed subconsciously if not consciously. Or is it simply now part of the landscape, unseen and unacknowledged?
The vacuum has been filled. I will do my best to capture as many of these as I can before my time here in Cuba runs out.
¡Hasta la Victoria siempre!