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An End to Political Murals in Cuba?

By Damaso Reyes

During my time in Cuba last fall, the government announced that citizens and residents would be allowed to buy and sell private property. The list of self employed entrepreneurs was being expanded to include barbers, car dealers, and photographers. Even the state run telephone directory was allowed to start taking advertisements from private businesses.

Yet in the twilight of Socialism when you walk around the streets of Havana you see no billboards for the newest iGadget or Chinese-built car, both of which are being bought by Cubans in surprising abundance. In public spaces, messaging that outside Cuba is paid for by the highest bidder is still firmly in the control of the state.

Political murals functioned as a way for Fidel Castro's regime to express a nationalist and revolutionary message in its early years in the face of the American embargo. Starting with simple slogans, these murals over time have become more creative and poetic, reflecting the government's attempt to modernize how it communicates.

However with the advent of private industry in Cuba, there is a possibility that the writing is on the wall for public advertising, and Apple billboards may yet become ubiquitous.

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Damaso Reyes is a journalist, photographer, and World Policy Institute project leader. His work has appeared in numerous publications like the Wall Street Journal, Der Spiegel, and Time.

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