A Cuba Linguistic Dilemma
HAVANA TIMES – Lately, I seem to sense a light breath of optimism in the official slogans, something of an attempt at modernization, like this slogan that I’ve seen on several Havana billboards:
“NEW CHALLENGES, NEW VICTORIES”
Note the absence of ideological indicatives; that the affirmation isn’t a pronouncement, a choice between two extremes (socialism or death), and could refer to any facet of human activity. I don’t know why, but to me it seems that the challenges are economic (that is, for the everyday Cuban) and the victories…will be whose?
There’s now a poster located at the entrance to the Havana municipality of Cotorro that I couldn’t assign to either of the two tendencies. The one it replaced – very washed out from the effects of the sun and grime – affirmed:
THE PARTY IS THE SOUL OF THE REVOLUTION
Now, alongside a gaudy painted Cuban flag it announces:
CUBA, FOREVER PATRIOTIC
Since I found myself obliged to wait beside that cryptic slogan for a bus that took a very long time to arrive, I found myself submerged in tangled reflections.
Is Cuba forever patriotic? I wondered. If the function of the adjective “patriotic” is to delimit or characterize the noun “Cuba”, then to say that Cuba is patriotic – Isn’t that the same as affirming that Cuba is Cuban?
Believing that this was already implicit in the noun, I deduced that the concept should be even more hermetically conceptualized and I continued to burrow into the mystery of the issue.
Do they mean to say that Cuba is becoming more patriotic? According to the Larousse dictionary this is the meaning of patria [fatherland,]:
“n.f. Country in which a person has been born or possesses nationality.”
Which suggests: Cuba nationalizes itself? It declares itself a “patria” and in addition “forever” (the adverb should also give us relevant information). Could it be that before it wasn’t one? That it discovered itself? That it is no longer the fatherland of its children but of herself? I, Cuba, make myself Cuban. I reaffirm myself and I become a country.
I know that these painted billboards beside the streets or highways aren’t put there at random, much less the meaning that they express. Any design destined to promote the government’s policies is carefully conceived and checked.
So, the supposed redundancy or meaninglessness (or excess of meaning) had to have been selected from among several proposals and have survived close scrutiny and suspicion.
This argument redoubled my confusion, convincing me of my complete ineptitude for absorbing such profound messages.
7 thoughts on “A Cuba Linguistic Dilemma”
Wrong again Dan. At the start of the Iraq war, MOST Americans DID support the invasion. We were lied to and public structures like your ‘Wall of Freedom’ were erected to show our support for our troops in harm’s way. As the war progressed and the truth came out, our support for the original invasion waned but our support for the troops never wavered. As far as my opinion regarding Cuban support for the Castros propaganda, re-read my comment. I acknowledge my remarks were anecdotal. Do you think that Cubans pass these billboards and agree with them? Really? I have never met a single Cuban that took these billboards seriously.
You never give up. Most Americans do not support the war in Iraq. The corporate media and propaganda apparatus did. Since when do you conduct or have access to polls about what Cubans think about their billboards. You also never addressed my point – the inanity of the propaganda we have to live with in this country.
If this is correct and both of these ‘propaganda’ pieces were publicly funded, as a citizen, you had a right to file a protest and organize a ground level opposition to the use of public monies in this way. You and I both know that if you had the courage of your convictions and attempted to do something that stupid, your would have failed miserably. Why? Because the overwhelming majority of Americans support these efforts in their community. In Cuba, on the contrary, most Cubans see these billboards as a waste of time and money and yet they have NO recourse to complain. See the difference?
The “Wall of Freedom” was put up by the county. The police station is the city. There was no public funding or input.
The “propaganda” you fail to appreciate in the US is likely funded by a private group of citizens who because of their patriotic zeal come together to pay for expressions of gratitude or pride. In Cuba, with no input from the public, the Castro regime promotes outdated and ineffective sloganeering for what seems like an attempt to ‘brainwash’ the Cuban public. There is a big difference between a billboard to promote pride or show gratitude paid for out of private funds and a billboard that attempts to sway public opinion paid for by the government.
I find Cuba refreshing compared to the US when it comes to inane propaganda. They have just recently taken down a “Wall of Freedom” at my local courthouse which went up when we attacked Iraq. It has pictures of local working class youths covered in kevlar brandishing their assault rifles. No obvious explanation of where the freedom part comes in, but if you’re American, you’re just supposed to know that stuff. Likewise, the new police station construction site had a giant banner proclaiming ” USA IS #1 !” They forgot to finish the sentence ..” in world incarceration levels”, (especially among blacks). At least Cuban propaganda has some grounding in reality and rationality.
Do these billboards influence behavior? It has been my observation that Cubans stop seeing them over time. In most countries in general, especially in the Caribbean, upon arriving at the airport on your way to your hotel, you see billboards selling soft drinks or promoting hotels. Just outside Jose Marti Int’l en route to Havana, visitors are bombarded with these political slogan billboards. What’s that about? Do the Castros hope to change the political perspectives of tourists as well. The most unsettling for me are the signs outside of government preschools that read “Future Communists”. Total nonsense.
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