Spring came early to Cuba on January 1st, 1959. Five years and five months of protracted, grueling conflict finally had come to an end, along with Batista’s military rule. The winter of Cuba’s brutal dictatorship had thawed. Not just had the 26th of July movement accomplished the improbable in usurping state power, but they were about to embark on the impossible: permanently existing outside of the United States’ hegemony. They had liberated themselves from Batista, and also from the ever-present system of neocolonialism which had plagued the island nation.
The new government had immediately begun to expropriate foreign industry/means of production for the benefit of the poor. This, of course, was the declaration of war needed for America to pursue its policy of isolation and embargo. 60 years on, the world has seen a shift from a bipolar dynamic to a US-led unipole, the projection of the US military across the entire globe and space, its continued growth as the richest country of all time, and still, a free Cuba just 90 miles from its own coastline. David and Goliath, with the exception of Goliath not being vanquished. While certainly a rousing story of an underdog victory, the unfortunate truth is that the United States is actually quite good at destroying revolutionary movements in its sphere of influence. The US’ foreign policy in Latin America is centered on the continued perpetuation of its own economic interests, even if it goes against the popular desires of a given country. That is why it’s subversive. The Cuban system/revolution is handled by the media in such a way as to establish a specific narrative. Media coalesces around this narrative, further entrenching it in the collective American consciousness. The purpose of this article is to explore this narrative and how the media’s handling of Cuba directly relates to foreign policy.
Cuban-related media, in the form of music, film, and major news, tends to correlate around a specific narrative. In the United States, this narrative is antagonistic and may be summarized as follows:
1. Cuba is a threat to the American perception of human decency and rights. In fact, they stand opposed to human nature itself.
2. The so-called benefits of the revolution were of poor quality
3. If raw data contradicts the last point (literacy rates, life expectancy, etc.), then there exists an ulterior motive to the benefits. Moreover, whatever that ulterior motive is, it’s so horrendous that the pros don’t outweigh the cons.
This is a narrative that has massive ramifications for America’s pursuit of its foreign policy in Latin America. Leftist/anti-imperial movements in Latin America can be easily delegitimized by simply copying-and-pasting a version of the Cuba narrative. Even without this narrative, any attempt on the part of a Latin American country to disengage with American neocolonialism, neo-imperialism, or neoliberalism will be met with violence, as demonstrated repeatedly throughout the region’s modern history. However, with the narrative comes the added ability to manufacture consent at home. Not just will US citizens be in favor of the forceful maintenance of hegemony, there’s even a chance people will volunteer as mercenaries (A la Soldiers of Fortune). At the very least, the narrative maintains a constant pool of terrified applicants willing to join the CIA, FBI, and other repressive organs of subversion to help stop the spread of communism. In reality, they’re doing nothing more than stopping human liberation.
Presentation of the Cuban Revolution in American Media:
An important note: My goal here is not to explain the mechanisms that allow seemingly independent journalism in the US to display a propagandized image of Cuba. I am simply going to describe this propaganda and its relation to the aims of US’ foreign policy.
In the lead up to the 2020 Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders faced controversy by praising communist Cuba’s literacy program. For context, almost immediately after achieving state power in Cuba, volunteer brigades diligently ventured into the countryside to teach people how to read and write. Cuba’s illiteracy rate plummeted from 23% to around 0%. With economic planning, such a feat was accomplished. Underdevelopment was no longer a valid reason for people to not have access to the human right of education. Almost instantly after Bernie’s comments, major news sources began disseminating articles actively discrediting the literacy program. NBC promptly published an article by Yuri Pérez with the provocative headline:
Yes, Bernie Sanders, Castro's literacy program was 'a bad thing.' I was indoctrinated by it.
Pérez describes the abject horror of learning the alphabet using “ ‘F’ for ‘Fidel’, the ‘C’ for ‘Castro’ and so on.” He continues to state that while education may seem like a good thing, it was really a tool to brainwash children by the regime. “The construction of the so-called socialist or communist society is a process of anthropological destruction. [To destroy] natural individual interests to pursue the collective goals of the revolution. But it's fundamental to human nature to have individualistic dreams and desires, and that nature is thus violated by the new order that sets government demands”. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what he’s claiming the goal of Cuba’s supposed indoctrination education was. Pérez mostly uses nebulous, lofty notions like “individualistic dreams and desires” and its unfalsifiable connection to “human nature”. Nevertheless, it was published by one of America’s largest news networks for millions who may not be familiar with the massive objective strides this exact system achieved.
Concurrently, CNN published its own article in response to Sanders attempting to set the record straight on Cuba’s literacy campaign and education system. While the last article was written as an ‘expert’ opinion (his personal experience in Cuba), it was still an opinion piece. CNN’s was written to sound more technical and balanced. With enough deep raking, one can uncover issues within any large-scale project, no matter how much of a net-good the project may have done. When something is controversial, it’s important to diligently look for the pros and cons. However, there is a difference between “fair and balanced” and cherry-picking for political expediency. As for the CNN article, it seems to be the latter. From the article, “In the years that followed the campaign, the Castro regime built schools in rural areas that hadn't had them before and made education completely free ... Today, while children in Cuba are required to attend school up to ninth grade, all schools are state-run and only offer a pro-government curriculum. Students start the day proclaiming, ‘We will be like Che.’” While this article at least presented the positives, it still went into a digression about the ‘innate indoctrination’ of Cuba’s education system. As the reader, I am left with a sense that Cuban schools are a repressive environment, although that really may not be the case. Students starting the day promising to be like a great national hero, to be a future leader, couldn’t be any more indoctrination than reciting the pledge of allegiance daily in American schools. Yet even the pledge is a relatively insignificant aspect of schooling, and an article detailing the pros and cons of the American school system highlighting that would clearly be cherry-picking and labeled “anti-American propaganda”.
It begs the question, is the alleged indoctrination so massive that it must be brought up in an article about Fidel’s literacy campaign? It’s hard to imagine a school system so full of lies that it somehow discounts a totally separate volunteer campaign from the 1960’s. This obvious non-sequitur calls into question the truth of the article's claims. Again, even if the article were simply an exploration of the Cuban education system alone, it's still questionable why that modicum of indoctrination is being discussed when indoctrination is inherent to all country’s education systems, and likely ignored if the country were any but an enemy. Also, writers of CNN status are very aware of the psychology of words: specific word choices can elicit certain desired reactions. This is a simple skill for any professional writer. Using the word regime is one example of this word-choice. Had they used the term government, no connotation would have been left, positive or negative. With all of this in mind, the CNN article has the effect of building upon the Cuban narrative.
I implied that bringing up indoctrination when discussing a country’s educational system may be irrelevant. This is because there’s a difference between true indoctrination and re-enforcing political ideals through education. The latter may superficially resemble the former, but it takes an intentional, rhetorical characterization by writers with an agenda. An important goal of any country’s education system is to form good citizens, a belief held by the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt. As such, a complete lack of any propaganda, even simply the personal biases of the teachers, is not realistic, nor even desirable. Teaching children certain political opinions is important, and in general, already done. Teaching children that racism is wrong, fascism is wrong, hurting people is wrong, etc. can be characterized as propagandizing an ideology. Using such language would just sound silly, yet that is exactly how Cuba’s educational system and literacy campaign have been rhetorically characterized by these articles as a part of American news. This creates a narrative which has real, material effects.
A little over a week ago, the Governor of my home state established November 7th as “Victims of Communism Day”. Florida is home to many conservative Cubans and DeSantis’ new Memorial Day is highly related to denouncing Cuba specifically. This is foreign policy manifested. A common anti-communist tactic is to claim a moral equivalence between communism and fascism. Fascism is both a means and an end, both of which have caused intentional suffering to millions. Additionally, the end-goal of fascism, itself, is an ugly, violent society. Using fascism as a rubric, communism may be presented as an evil aberration of human ideology whose means are consciously twisted and whose end would be the society seen in 1984. Thanks to the predominance of the anti-Cuba narrative, it is much easier to sell this ‘equivalence’. This is precisely what Ron DeSantis has done with his new day of remembrance, although it's hardly unique. To contrast this narrative with reality, just one week prior to that, Cuba poured into the streets to celebrate May 1st: international worker’s day. Cubans marched, sang, and danced to the drumbeat of worker solidarity and in honor of the Cuban revolution. Thanks to Cuba’s commitment to Marxian planning, their people are able to attain world-class standards of health and education despite being a developing country. To this end, Cuba has a comparable -and possibly higher- life expectancy to the United States itself. For the Cuban mother receiving medical supplies for her ill child, it may seem out of touch to suggest that she is the victim of an aborhhent ideology whose victims must be honored as if she were under a Nazi regime. It is precisely the ideological commitment to achieving the “communist society” which created the conditions for such potent collective goods in Cuba. With regards to a similarly-developed country like the Dominican Republic, there is no state-side clamor about the victims of capitalism beyond the exact voices DeSantis wishes to silence - the anti-capitalists/communists in America. Thanks to the narrative, he can crush these voices on the homefront.
There is a way in which the articles I chose directly relate to “Victims of Communism Day”. For my research, I dove into the background of the writer for the NBC article, Yuri Pérez. Pérez holds the position of author within the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a DC based organization established by an act of Congress. This organization has been criticized for using the incorrect Black Book of Communism statistic of 100 million murdered by communism. Independent journalism is regularly contrasted with “state news”. “State news” being news consumed by a population whose content is purely a reflection of the state’s interests: a direct pipeline. As for the article written by Pérez, the reality becomes concerning. Pérez is an author for a quasi-US governmental organization that propagandizes against communism and has a history of misrepresenting facts (leveraging the Black Book of Communism). He then wrote for one of America’s largest news corporations. This is a dangerous pipeline, as it essentially allows the talking heads of foreign policy to dictate articles as if it were unbiased, independent journalism. All the while maintaining the false presentation of independent journalism. Through the work of Pérez’s organization, Ron DeSantis has given Floridians a day to remember the ‘victims of communism’. This will include mandatory grade-school education on the ‘dark truth of communism’. Ironically, propaganda in Cuban education was unpalatable for Pérez, yet this is a win for his group.
When it comes to foreign policy, an important component is the manufacturing of narratives on the homefront to discredit our enemies. Despite Cuba representing a successful model for increasing healthcare, education, and ending US hegemony on their turf by nationalizing businesses (which, in turn, supports the first two), it would be irresponsible for the US to not campaign against it. With such campaigning, if another Latin American country decided to implement anything resembling Cuba’s model, there would be no shortage of America-side support for destroying it. One needs to look no further than a 20th century history book of Latin America. Especially countries like Chile, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Nicaragua, in particular, aimed to nationalize certain industries with the goal of funding social programs and empower the people of a peripheral nation to the United States’ hegemony. Without even declaring themselves communist or Marxists, the Sandinistas and their rational plans were disparaged in the United States. American news had already shown just how “evil” Cuba’s system was. It thus took little maneuvering on Reagan’s part to claim the Sandinistas were clearly aiming to build the kind of ‘autocratic, totalitarian, scariness’ seen in Cuba. Nor did it take much convincing to promote paramilitary death squads as “freedom fighters”. The result was the death of thousands of innocent people in Nicaragua and the beginning of the alliance between the CIA, Nicaragua fascists, and the crack epidemic in US inner cities.
A Postscript: Presentation of Cuba in Foreign Media:
In analyzing the relationship between American news on Cuba with its subversive foreign policy in Latin America, it is important to compare how other countries view the island nation. The narrative of “Cuba=evil” is so ubiquitous in American society that it can be hard to forget that rational praise of Cuba isn’t unheard of in other countries. Even Bernie’s comments are by no means radical. After Fidel Castro’s death, Justin Trudeau extended his condolences to the Cuban people. He said, “It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President. Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation. While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante’.” 
What is consistently sold domestically as a failed state whose repression knows no bounds, Cuba’s revolution has been seen as a source of hope for many throughout Latin America. Che Guevara has been this symbol specifically, representing the summation of that hope for a better, leftist future - A future of liberation. Che’s iconography is arguably even stronger than Cuba’s own. Even in America, wearing a Che shirt doesn’t cause much issue. This is despite the fact that wearing a Fidel shirt would almost certainly offend someone. However, respect for Che is palpable among many people throughout Latin America. This is reflected in their art. 2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries portrayed an intimate look into the experience which first radicalized Che. This movie doesn’t show him as a wartime hero, but rather a politically misinformed young person who gains political consciousness. Seeing the abject suffering of indigenous people was a deep shock that forced him to re-evaluate his entire life. So much so, that he dropped everything to become the famous revolutionary. By centering the movie around this specific part of his life, the viewer can relate to Che and leave the theater questioning what cognitive dissonances they might be suppressing. The movie leaves you feeling inspired by Che, too.
Che: I want to be useful, somehow.
Silvia: You're wasting your time.
Silvia: Life is pain.
Che: Yeah, it's pretty screwed up. You gotta fight for every breath and tell death to go to hell.
From an American perspective, I could imagine how some would find this movie ‘propagandic’ because of the gulf between the way our societies deal with the Cuban revolution. Clearly, in other parts of the world, one doesn’t even have to be a socialist to agree with elements of the Cuban system or with the heroic resolve of Che. There is simply too much state-sponsored rhetoric in the United States to allow us the same privilege. Finally, I chose this movie to represent the artistic view of the Cuban revolution for two reasons. Che, as an icon, conveniently represents “Cuba” and with a Brazilian director, Argentine actors, Puerto Rican and Argentine-Cuban writers, and substantial funding from Peruvian and Chilean producers, there is no doubt about it. This is a thoroughly Latino movie.
Non-negative displays of Cuba are difficult to show in the United States; an issue that faced the 2008 movie Che when attempted to be shown in Miami. This leaves to be perhaps the most famous depiction of Cuba in mainstream American film: Red Dawn. Cuba is shown as one of the main invading forces, subjugating and killing innocent Americans. Forcing children to take up arms in self-defense, and so on. This is a massive departure to the positive, humanistic representation in The Motorcycle Diaries. This is merely an example of the United States’ media enforcing a narrative of resentment and fear for the small, developing country. Not just in the news, but strategically reinforced in the art we consume. To add more out-of-touch narrative manufacturing, Nicaraguan troops are also present in Red Dawn. Inexplicably, they joined the Soviet invasion of the US. This is despite the fact that the Sandinistas never declared themselves communists, were not really an ally of the Soviets beyond accepting aid (which they had from the United States as well), and the only wanton death was happening in its own territory in real life thanks to US-sponsored paramilitary groups. Perhaps, that could be taken as a sign that 1980’s Nicaragua was on the right track for dismantling hegemony if the media was actively elevating them to the level of Cuba.
 Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2370(a)(1)-(a)(2)) https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCODE-2010-title22/html/USCODE-2010-title22-chap32-subchapIII-partI-sec2370.htm, §2370.E for retaliation of expropriation
 A. Lorenzetto and K. Neys “Methods and Means Utilized in Cuba to Eliminate Illiteracy: UNESCO Report.” UNESCO (1971)
 Yuri Pérez,”Yes, Bernie Sanders, Castro’s Literacy Program was ‘a bad thing’” NBC (Feb. 28, 2020)
 Nicole Gaouette and Patrick Oppmann, “What the Cuban literacy program Bernie Sanders praised was actually about” CNN (Feb 25, 2020)
 “Cuba Celebrates International Workers’ Day With Mass Marches” teleSUR English (May 1, 2022)
 https://victimsofcommunism.org/author/yuri/ Yuri’s author’s page.
 Jonathan Rauch "The Forgotten Millions". The Atlantic. (December 2003)
 Kristen Ghodsee and Scott Sehon "The merits of taking an anti-anti-communism stance". Aeon. (March 22, 2018)
 Gary Webb “Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion.” Seven Stories Press. 1998
 Justin Trudeau, “Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro” (Nov 26, 2016) https://pm.gc.ca/en/news/statements/2016/11/26/statement-prime-minister-canada-death-former-cuban-president-fidel
 Salles, Walter, director. “The Motorcycle Diaries”. Buena Vista International, 2004. 126 minutes.
 Salles, Walter, director. “The Motorcycle Diaries”. Buena Vista International, 2004. 126 minutes.
 Milius, John, director. “Red Dawn”. MGM/UA Entertainment Company, 1984. 114 minutes.
My name is Jesse Jose Hernandez-Werbow. I am a Puerto Rican-american college student and a member of the PSL. A bit about my beliefs: I believe that the study of history is too unscientific and relies on rhetorical characterizations more often-than-not. The only proper way to understand history is through a clear, scientific methodology. This methodology was developed by Marx and utilized by some of the greatest philosophers since him. Further, Marx, Lenin, and Stalin developed scientific methodologies for all sorts of topics, including the science of revolution, the science of socialism/Marxian economics, and the study of imperialism: the greatest real-world contradiction. Through these methodologies, we can better understand the world around us and how to improve it.
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