On Saturday evening, Cubans in Miami headed to one of four locations in the city to pick up a special edition of the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald. To mark the death of the divisive Cuban leader who ruled for nearly five decades, the newspaper released a 16-page report, which includes a poster.
As many reflect on Castro’s legacy – with one side seeing him as a champion for the poor and the other seeing him as a ruthless dictator responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands and the decline of Cuba – the New York Times revisited the political posters the Cuban government commissioned following his rise to power in 1959.
According to the NYT, “thousands of posters were commissioned by the government to communicate his vision of a socialist society.” Activist and journalist Susan Sontag said that the posters did more than just boost morale. “In this revolution, a revolution in consciousness that requires turning the whole country into a school, posters are an important method of public teaching,” she wrote.
Some of the works commissioned during this era even became highly regarded works of art. Cuba’s political art gained international attention in the 1960s and 1970s. Prominent artist Felix René Mederos Pazos, for example, had his work featured at Galeria de la Raza in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1970, as well as in Dugald Stermer’s 1970 coffee-table book, Slate reports.
The production of posters in Cuba began dwindling in the mid-1980s, but many of the pieces have had a lasting history. Check out a few posters created after Castro’s rise:
In 1973 – to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the birth of the Cuban revolutionary movement, which began on July 26, 1953 – Felix René Mederos Pazos illustrated an image of 26-year-old Castro leading a group of rebels at the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Fidel and his brother were captured.
Months later on October 16, 1953, Fidel, who had recently graduated from law school, acted as his own lawyer and gave his famous four-hour “La historia me absolverá” speech. The 1973 illustration cites the speech. It reads, “On the other hand, except for the .22 caliber rifles, for which there were plenty of bullets, our side was very short of ammunition. Had we had hand grenades, the army would not have been able to resist us for 15 minutes.”
Castro ended up sentenced to 15 years in prison, but Fulgencio Batista released him.
This Felix René Mederos Pazos piece came a decade after January 8, 1959 – the day Fidel Castro triumphantly rode into Havana. According to the NYT, an “exhausted but happy” Fidel marched alongside 5,000 rebels. The government commissioned the illustration for the 10th anniversary of the rebellion. The poster is directly inspired by a 1957 image taken from the CBS News team’s trip to Cuba to film Rebels of the Sierra Maestra: The Story of Cuba’s Jungle Fighters.
Known in Cuba for his own version of Pop Art, Raúl Martínez illustrated this piece in 1968. Though Fidel had broken his promises, he remained popular. This illustration prominently features the number 26, to commemorate the attack on the Moncada barracks.