Advertising, Consumption and Standardization in Cuba

By Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

HAVANA TIMES — The “standardization” process which our country is experiencing is rubbing its impetus right in our face. We don’t have to dig deep into hidden philosophies in order to confirm its progress. The new “normal” flashes its banners, explicit graphic symbols, so as to leave no doubt about it being an irreversible process.

The images accompany this post are tiny signs of this reality, which had been banished from our country up until recently, but have now become a daily reality. They are the result of the progress that commercial ideology has made, while it has been encouraged. However, very few of us are getting upset by it, less than nobody, pro-government scribes, guardians of a contradictory faith to the extremes of the absurd.

Commercial advertising was validated by the unfortunate document known as the Conceptualization of the Cuban economic and social model. The tsar of the Cuban economic reforms, Marino Murillo, points out the key to this with a sincerity that is worthy of the best of causes. I heard him speak at one of those Cuban parliamentary sessions broadcast on TV.

The purpose of a company, Murillo said, “consists of producing a product – or a service – selling it and making a profit.” The local group of free market economists broke out in applause, euphoric. Intermediate level politicians and officials looked to the superior authorities to see what sign would come down. Proof on the street left no room for doubt. In this way, bright ads flourish, with their well-known invitations to consume beer, rum and cigarettes.

Let’s see if we make sense here. Tobacco is a drug, which causes addiction and health problems which can even result in death. Alcohol, when consumed beyond minimum quantities, does the same thing. For historic and social reasons, alcohol and tobacco are legal recreational drugs, and there are companies which produce and sell them. This is one of the most flagrent examples of the contradiction that exists between individual interest, or a group of individuals’ interest, and that of society on the whole. Business health vs. people’s health.

Do you remember when our media – government-owned, of course – used to criticize multinational cigarette companies because of their advertising? Is Cuban society going to reproduce this marketing method now, criminally indifferent to human life?

There is a war of symbols, there’s no doubt about it. Global imperialism makes use of it, parallel to that of rockets and bombs, to crush obstacles to its hegemony. Polychromed Malls, the aesthetic of so many movies and the majority of election mechanisms are just some of the weapons in its powerful armory.

The then US President Barack Obama came to our country, all arrogant, and gave us a sickly-sweet speech. He certainly made a masterful display of liberalism’s symbolic arsenal. Anyone who was caught off their guard would have had their foot chewed off [1]. Former Cuban president Fidel Castro didn’t like this, and the government’s claque opened fire. “Soft power” tactics as a trick of the US establishment to return Cuba to its back yard were denounced and condemned.

Nevertheless, capitalist mentalities have been able to take root and establish themselves in our country, despite the government upholding a, seemingly, opposite discourse. The advertising we see isn’t being put out by Ileana Ros [2] and are not funded by USAID.

The policy makers would argue that this is another way to encourage a boom in a certain economic sector, but it doesn’t allow us to make progress and move towards a healthier and fairer society, the complete opposite in fact. Every time one of these posters is seen, years of appeals, tons of paper and tanks of ink, dedicated to criticizing consumerism, are thrown down the drain.

The world of consumerism, idealized and appealing, is thrown into our faces. If, on top of this, the person seeing these ads is a humble, working person with a low income, the publicity compromises their self-esteem and value in society. And to make things worse, the ads aren’t for staple products, but for clearly harmful ones. However, disciples of the reigning ideology will remain selectively close-minded, until one of these ads is placed in the middle of their street.

In recent days, TV reports have been seen which exhibit the government’s concern about addictions becoming more widespread among Cuban teenagers. They stress the fact that families need to explain more to their youth that such habits are bad. That’s all fine, but they know that today’s youth are seeing these cigarette and alcoholic drinks ads, right?

Then why don’t they question these ads being put up in public spaces? Are we not as clever as the people in other capitalist countries, who have realized the problem and created laws against these poisonous messages? Could it be that the latter would attack the market and profits of some of us here who take advantage of selling this ill-fated merchandise?

At the end of the day, everything leads back to Marxism. The mode of property of economic drivers determines production relations, the mentality of society and the moral, ethical principles that are acceptable. As things currently stand, companies are administrated in an opaque manner; they are immune to workers’ control and are targets of systematic embezzlement which the Comptroller’s office denounces but doesn’t manage to reduce it. The working class is being alienated from an economy far from socialist.

The administrative class, the main beneficiary of these new marketing possibilities, will be provided with private property. A private business class has profit as its main and only objective, in accordance with Darwin’s law of market societies. Public consumerism is the key to its survival and growth and to assure the survival of the system that supports them.

This class will justify anything, and impose its criteria about what’s “right” and “wrong”. It doesn’t necessarily need to be linked to foreign capitalism in order to reproduce its shortcomings, but if it has the chance, it will speed up the overall downfall of society.

The influence of foreign multinational companies will lubricate and speed up the adjustment process to capitalist “standardization”. It’s no coincidence that such investments in alcoholic beverages and cigarettes have been taking place in Cuba for quite some time now. Post-reform Cuba, up-to-date with the modern world, “normal”, which the new class of capitalists conjure up, will be full of posters like these.

{1} Cuban term, expresses the ability to manipulate or cheat.
{2} Congresswoman of Cuban origin, an active advocate for sanctions against Cuba.


4 thoughts on “Advertising, Consumption and Standardization in Cuba

  • So how can cubans advertise/work around not being able to advertise?

  • “The wealth of a nation comes not from what it consumes, but from what it produces.”

    Barack Obama 25th May, 2011

    Because annual production of almost everything but especially food, declines in Cuba, it is in reality dependent upon the endeavors of others. That reflects the pursuit for fifty eight long dreary years of the out-dated 19th century concept called Marxism. It simply doesn’t work!

    The $5 Billion Brazilian funded port of Mariel which is served by a new rail link and new road link, is a pretty quiet spot but handles more imports than exports. Meantime the former President of Brazil Lulu de Silva who was responsible for the funding, is on trial for corruption and his successor Dilma Rouseff who along with Raul Castro officially opened the port, is awaiting trial.

  • Hardly a cause for alarm. The state regulators are well established to dictate business signage. Tourism industry is needed to support the economy. This requires having all sorts of business that makes up tourism. The basic reality is that Cuba needs to produce something so that it can buy what it lacks internationally.

  • Bien dicho.

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