‘En Cada Barrio’: Timocracy, Panopticism and the Landscape of a Normalized Community – Daniel H. Ortega


The present scholarly interest in the concept of community has resulted in a tableau of discursive production (Anderson, 1991; Agamben, 1993; Hardt and Negri, 2000). I would argue that the works of Michel Foucault, especially his texts on the relationship between power and knowledge and the attributes and effects of panopticism, can add to the lexicon of research concerning the notion of community. My investigation will focus on politically oriented signage found in the island nation of Cuba. I will discuss this signage, as well as other graphic elements found in the Cuban landscape, as landscape elements that act as agents of power intended to produce a specific set of classified values and knowledge and to serve as visual reminders of a state-activated panoptic condition. The images included in this paper will help articulate my thesis that the graphic material has been strategically utilized in the landscape in order to create a self-surveilled, normalized community. I will follow the work of Gandy (1993) and Vaz and Bruno (2003) and adopt their interpretations of Foucault’s theorizations of power, knowledge, and surveillance. I will concur with Vaz and Bruno that their reading of Foucault allows for an ‘enlargement of the conception of self-surveillance’ (2003: 273). While the work of Vaz and Bruno is set within a discourse of health-care practices, their intentions are fluid enough to be included in this discussion of cultural identity, public space, and community.

My own inquiry will begin by establishing a historical outline that explores the revolutionary posture of Cuba’s past, present, and, most likely, future condition. This discussion of Cuba’s political history is necessary in order to foreground my claim that the Cuban government’s contemporary revolutionary ideology, packaged in the suggestion and promotion of a timocratic society, requires a Foucauldian framework of discussion. Over the next two sections of this paper, I will draw on Gandy’s and Vaz and Bruno’s readings of Foucault’s texts as they relate to the power/knowledge relations as well as to ‘dividing practices’ (Foucault, 1973), the ‘objectification of the subject’, and the ‘concept of normalization’ (Gandy, 1993: 10). The first of these two sections will address the promotion of a timocratic sense of community among Cuban nationals, as disseminated by the state. I will argue that this timocratic sense has been developed through, and asserted by, politically oriented billboards found in the Cuban landscape. While the political ideology disseminated by the Cuban government will serve as the context for my investigation, specific billboards found in the nation-state’s landscape will act as sites of inquiry into the realm of community. In the following section, I will suggest that a series of public murals that announce the existence of the state-powered Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, institute a type of panopticism that eventually leads to a community of self-surveillance. In addition, this section will speak to my contention that these murals exist parallel to the billboards and act to disseminate a normalizing judgment, a judgment that fosters a conception of a multitude as defined by Negri (2004). This section will also delineate some of the Foucauldian concepts, especially those regarding processes of normalization.

The discussion of billboards and murals that have been used in this research will outline a dialectical construction that references the role of a revolutionary history and political discourse in the production of a distinct urban landscape that at once displays, informs, and enforces the Cuban conception of community.

Cuban revolutionary history: toward a timocratic campaign

Three significant periods of armed resistance in Cuban history

In establishing an argument that Cuba’s political history plays a fundamental role in its government’s promotion of a timocratic state, it is practical to begin this section with a brief timeline of Cuban revolutionary history and end the section with a working definition of timocracy as it is intended to be used throughout the remainder of this paper.1

The part of Cuban history that deals with political struggle and insurrection can be categorized into three distinct periods: the Spanish Colonial period, which lasted from approximately 1509 to 1898, the Republican period, which spanned from 1901 to 1958, and the Socialist Revolutionary period, which began in 1959 and remains as the current historic-political condition (Whitney, 2001: 17). The island of Cuba was settled in the name of Spain in 1511 by Diego Columbus, the son of Christopher Columbus. Columbus’ settlement of the island resulted in nearly four hundred years of Spanish colonial rule. The exception to Spanish rule during the time period from 1509 to 1898 was an eleven-month period in 1762, during which the British controlled the island. Many historians point to these eleven months as the time when free trade between Cuba and North America was established, sugar production technologies were increased via Jamaica, and nearly 5,000 black slaves were imported (Kapcia, 2005: 27).

As with most colonized peoples, Cuban nationals eventually dissented and initiated movements of insurgency against their colonial governors. The three major Cuban revolutions against the Spanish rule lasted nearly twenty years (Kapcia, 2005, Whitney, 2001). The Ten Years War (1868-1878) began as a political revolution and transformed into a social one (Kapcia, 2005). Manuel de Cespedes, a criollo (white born Cuban) plantation owner, shared the frustrations of most criollos. Frustrated by Spanish assurances of autonomy and the increase in a Spanish presence on the island, de Cespedes initiated what was to become the Ten Years War. In October of 1868 he released his black slaves as a symbol of rebellion. Other white land owners followed suit, capitalizing on the frustrations of their slaves to lead an armed rebellion against the Spanish. Eventually the land owners became increasingly intimidated by the ability of the Spanish to endure the rebellion and abandoned their cause. An important symbol of that initial rebellion was the figure of Antonio Maceo, the son of a free black Cuban land owner who became a dominant leader in the rebellion.

In 1879, black inhabitants from eastern Cuba lead a second war known as La Guerra Chiquita (The Little War). However, Maceo and other leaders were out of the country and could not return in time to participate in the war which lasted just over a year. Inspired by the tenacity of the black rebellion, Jose Marti, a Cuban-born journalist living in exile and the leader of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, championed a second large scaled rebellion by publishing propaganda and uniting the finances of eastern U.S. émigrés with the radicalism of Miami’s Cuban population. By enlisting the support of Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez, another hero of the Ten Years War, Marti hoped to have more success than what was achieved during The Little War. While their campaign, which began in 1895, was successful, eventually leading to Cuba’s independence from Spain in 1897, Maceo and Marti both lost their lives in battle, thus earning them a hero status that endures to this day throughout much of Latin America.

While the Second War of Independence was successful in gaining Cuban independence from Spain, it opened the way for increased American involvement in agriculture, primarily sugar production, and in the newly independent nation’s economic and political situation.2 This expansion of American involvement, which some historians have described as a new colonial condition, is often credited with leading to the Republican Period of Cuban history (Whitney, 2001). The Republican Period is also often referred to as the ‘Plattist’ Period. The name is derived from, and the period is defined by, the U.S.-imposed Platt Amendment. The Platt Amendment stipulated that if the newly established Cuban government expected the U.S. government to acknowledge their sovereignty, ‘they would have to give the United States the constitutional right under the Cuban constitution to intervene in their internal affairs to preserve political order and protect private property’ (Whitney, 2001: 17). This dictated administration of sovereignty eventually lead to a factionalized Cuban government that was easily influenced by the economic opportunities made available by the foreign interests of U.S. industry.

The corruption that resulted from the greed of Cuban political leaders led to a succession of different administrations, each one accusing the other of the same malignant interests. During the 1920’s, a resurgence of Cuban nationalism and a growing frustration with the government’s abandonment of the ideals of independence resulted in a backlash against the hegemony established by the U.S. and conceded by Cuban leaders (Kapcia, 2005). The 1920’s also introduced a new brand of radicalism which included the introduction of Marxist ideologies and the nationalistic philosophies of other Latin American countries into the discourse of a newly forming revolutionary movement. This movement culminated in the Revolution of 1933, a rebellion that was unsuccessful mostly due to American (‘Plattist’) intervention.

The failed revolution served as a fulcrum for the Republican Period. In 1934, the United States supported the placement of Fulgencio Batista, a displaced Cuban army officer into power as the country’s new leader. Although Batista and his followers represented only one of many groups actively involved in the revolutionary movements of the early 1930’s, the U.S. viewed their right-wing agenda as easier to deal with than that of the Cuban Communist Party, or of any of the several groups of armed students who supported a Marxist approach to the government. With the support of his American endorsers, Batista’s administration became a military dictatorship that was guilty not only of the same offenses as the administrations from the Republican Period, but also of severe human rights violations. The historian Antoni Kapcia describes Batista’s regime as follows: ‘he crushed the Left’, encouraged American organised crime to invest and operate [in Cuba], and allowed an emerging “new” Cuban elite to recover’ (2005: 63).3

The corruption of the Batista administration, and the overwhelming presence of American economic and political interests, legitimate and otherwise, further encouraged an overwhelming resentment toward the government amongst the lower classes of Cuban society. Once again, the notion of an armed revolution became a part of the Cuban socio-political landscape. The willingness to engage in armed resistance against the Batista government became evident during the 26th of July 1953 invasion of the Moncada barracks, an army garrison located in Santiago, led by Fidel Castro. The attack was unsuccessful; Castro spent the next two years in prison and the following year exiled in Mexico. The attempted invasion nevertheless became the emblem of new hope for independence from the Republic.

While in Mexico, Castro used his ability to articulate the need for an armed rebellion through propaganda and fundraising. In 1956, Castro and a group of 82 other men launched from Mexico in a Yacht named the Granma. Their planned invasion of Eastern Cuba was to coincide with several simultaneous urban guerilla uprisings throughout the Eastern region (Anderson, 1997). While the initial invasion was again unsuccessful, the rebels were able to establish themselves in the mountainous area known as the Sierra Maestra. The tenacity of the dissident force led to a further division amongst the Cuban people, with many of those who felt most disenfranchised joining Castro and the rebels. (Kapcia, 2005)

The revolution eventually became a success when, after a decisive battle in Santa Clara, led by the Argentinean born Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the rebels earned a sizable power advantage over government troops. Fulgencio Batista conceded defeat and fled the country on January 1, 1959. Guevara was one of the men who joined Castro after meeting him in Mexico City. Che’s resolve as a leader in the revolutionary efforts has made him one of the country’s most beloved heroes. The image of Che Guevara can be found throughout the island nation and is still recognized globally as representing revolutionary values, Marxist ideology, and an anti imperialist, anti-colonial agenda.

Armed resistance as the foreground for the establishment of a timocratic philosophy

The Cuban government defends and elevates the revolution of 1959 as a victory for the people of Cuba. Besides Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, the state recognizes other heroes of the revolution such as Raul Castro (Fidel’s younger brother), Camillo Cienfuegos and Frankie Pais, as well as heroes from the Second War of Independence with Spain, including Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo, as exemplary citizens whose lives and sacrifices should be revered as the ultimate in Cubanidad (Cuban-ness). As this paper will establish in more detail, the reverence held for these leaders extends beyond ideological teachings and becomes a substantial physical part of the Cuban landscape, as images of the heroes are reproduced on billboards, in murals, and in sculpture found throughout the country.

This investigation has been informed and inspired by the inundation of the Cuban landscape by these images, the images that work to support and promote the tenets of the revolution. I want to suggest that these public images act as a common voice that asserts Cubania (Cuban-ness, and the belief in Cubanidad)4 as a true timocracy; a timocracy only made possible by the efforts of armed rebellion against oppressive forces. For the purposes of this work, timocracy can best be described as ‘a state in which the love of honor, glory, esteem is the highest ideal and the ruling principle of government ‘; a state ruled by leaders of honor, worth, competence, and esteem as opposed to class, heredity, power, [and] privilege’ (Angeles, 1992: 314).5

The timocratic landscape of community

By stipulating that the Cuban revolution of 1959 was a popular insurgency against a deeply rooted colonial history, a corrupt internal regime, and American imperialism, its reification by the current government becomes an important part of maintaining its success. It is my suggestion that an integral component of that maintenance strategy lies in establishing a consciousness of a timocratic state. The strategy relies heavily on graphic images that have been placed in the landscape as suggestive devices. A partial component of the decision to use public art as a medium of ideological dissemination is Castro’s ‘infatuation with what are called proyectos de artes ” (arts projects) (Corbett, 2002: 213). These community art projects are intended to ‘benefit the community, whether a barrio, a zone, or the entire Revolutionary culture.’

Before continuing this discussion further, I would like to take some time to reflect on the definition of timocracy as it applies to my claim that Cuba’s revolutionary past can be implemented as a vehicle to inspire a community of Cubanidad. To paraphrase Angeles’ definition, I will rely on the description of a society where the love of ‘honor’, ‘glory’ and ‘esteem’ is considered the ‘highest ideal and ruling principle of government’ (Angeles, 1992: 314). By choosing to utilize representations of revolutionary heroes in public proyectos de arte, the Castro administration draws on the perception of honor, glory, and esteem associated with the person or persons, the message, and the historical event being exhibited.

One of the most popular images in Cuba is that of Ernesto Guevara. The following examples are of billboards at the monument to Che Guevara in Santa Clara, Cuba (see figures 1 and 2). Figure one depicts the beret (emblazoned with the star representing socialist values) that is often considered an iconic part of Guevara’s persona. The second billboard, which is located directly to the right of the first, reads ‘Queremos que sean como el Che — Fidel’ [We want you to be like Che — Fidel]. The pair of billboards are a direct request (or command, depending on the reader) to the people of Cuba, as the ‘you’ (in the plural) to ‘be like’ Che. The ‘we’ is a direct reference to the government, and the message concludes Comandante Fidel’s signature, thus reinforcing the connection between the two highest role models of honor and glory in the revolution. While the billboards serve as a part of the memorial to Che Guevara, the message on the billboard also functions as a graphic illustration of the government’s politics of the late 1980’s. At that time, Fidel became disillusioned with the liberal reforms of the Soviet Union and called upon the people of Cuba to ‘[reinstitute] Che Guevara’s ideas as the correct ones for Cuba’s Communists to follow’ (Anderson, 1997: 749).

Figure 1: A Representation of Che Guevara’s Beret. Photo by the author.
Figure 2: We Want You To Be Like Che – Fidel. Photo by the author.

Another billboard that references the spirit of Guevara and his beliefs, as they are associated with the essence of Cuba’s revolutionary culture, can be found in Cienfuegos, Cuba (see figure 3). The billboard contains a characterization of Alberto Korda’s 1960 photograph of Guevara. The billboard, featured on a prominent corner facing into the city’s main plaza, reads ‘Tu Ejemplo Vive: Tus Ideas Perduran’ (Your Example Lives, Your Ideas Endure). Once again, a public art work is utilized to propagate a sense of honor and worth that is to be revered as a way of Cuban life.

Figure 3: Your Example Lives Your Ideas Endure. Photo by the author.

Cuba’s politically oriented signage does not always rely on iconic images of heroes. Frequently, the markers also offer statements that are meant to circulate the philosophical tenets of the pro-socialist government. The following example is indicative of billboards that can be found along roadsides and other public places (see figure 4). The billboard reads, ‘Sin Propaganda no hay movimiento de masas’ (Without Propaganda There is No Mass Movement). The image conveys the notion that propaganda is a necessary condition in constituting (and moving) the masses. The critical timocratic element found in this piece is its acknowledgement of a mass movement. In fostering a sensibility of a timocratic community, ‘ruled by leaders of honor, worth, competence, and esteem’ (Angeles, 1992: 314), this billboard announces that, thanks to the virtues of socialism (which is an assumed component of Cuban society) and through propaganda, a community that rejects the notions of ‘class, heredity, power, and privilege,’ can exist.

Figure 4: Without Propaganda There Is No Mass Movement. Photo courtesy of David Stanley. www.cuba-pictures.com

At this point, I would like to explore the Foucauldian conception of power/knowledge, and more specifically, his articulation of ‘dividing practices’, as a way of theorizing the power of Cuba’s politically oriented, public proyectos de arte. As many authors have stated, Foucault’s work concerning the connection between power and knowledge and the consequences of this conjunction, can be applied across a discursive array of disciplines (Gandy, 1993; Hall, 1997; Nola, 1998; Rabinow, 1984). I intend to draw on some of those readings and relate them to my thesis concerning the construction of Cuba’s self-surveilled, timocratic community.

In beginning my exploration of Foucault’s work, I will contextualize his definition of power as ‘a mode of action which does not act directly and immediately on others. Instead it acts upon their actions: an action upon an action, on existing actions or on those which may arise in the present or the future’ (Foucault, 1982: 220). It is this indirect ‘mode of action’ upon the condition and execution of ‘present’ and ‘future’ actions, imposed by the public landscape of state-sanctioned ideological messages, that allows me to suggest that the network of signs in the Cuban landscape can be considered as a foundation for a power relationship that effects a specifically Cuban configuration of community.

Foucault’s theorizations of the association between power and knowledge have been widely addressed, discussed, and criticized. Here, however, I will embrace Nola’s question as to whether there might be ‘readings of Foucault between which no consensus need be found or ought to be sought?’ (Nola, 1998: 1) As such, I would like to explore a singular aspect of the Foucauldian articulation of power/knowledge: the ability of power/knowledge scenarios to establish the ‘classificatory activities’ of ‘dividing practices’ (Gandy, 1993: 10). In The Orderof Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Foucault presents ‘dividing practices’ as the practices that separate out deviants and dissenters from the rest of the society.6 While Foucault’s discussion of classification according to the criterion of ‘normalcy’ deals primarily with issues concerning natural sciences, I would argue that the notion of ‘dividing practices’ can be applied to the social, spatial, and political discourses of Cuban signage.

By establishing a self-promoted timocratic campaign to advance the institution of the nation,the billboards featured thus far establish a dichotomy that resembles Foucault’s division between dissenters and the rest of the society. The ‘dividing practices’ exercised in these billboards presuppose the existence of the ‘Other’. By establishing an ‘Us’ (self) and ‘Them’ (other) dichotomy, these graphics form a built landscape that classifies the distinction between a good Cuban citizen and a dissenter.7 A good Cuban citizen follows a communist ideology similar to Che’s; a good Cuban citizen makes sure that Che’s ideals endure; and a good member of the Cuban community understands the value of propaganda in establishing a mass movement (presumably against the ‘Other’).

One graphic example of the dichotomy between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, and therefore between our (Cuban) community and their (U.S.) community, is a Cuban billboard which portrays an aggressive Uncle Sam figure standing on American soil and threatening a Cuban soldier who is relaxed yet ready to defend his country (see figure 5). The billboard reads, ‘Senores Imperialistas: “No Les Tenemos Absolutamente Ningun Miedo!”‘ [Misters Imperialists: ‘We Have Absolutely No Fear!’]. The implication that the American imperialists might pose a threat to a Cuban national unity/identity is the first step in identifying an anti-imperialist (common) politic. By indicating that the Cuban people have no fear of imperialist aggression, this billboard evokes Hardt and Negri’s notion that the ‘[erection of] national walls to obstruct the overpowering forces of foreign capital ‘,’ i.e. aggression, is a valid constituent of the declaration that ‘the claim to nationhood affirm[s] the dignity of the people and legitimate[s] the demand for independence and equality’ (2000: 106). This ‘affirmed dignity’ and ‘demand for independence’ also serve as a demand that a Cuban community be recognized both internally and externally.

Figure 5: Mister Imperialists: We Have Absolutely No Fear. Photo courtesy of David Stanley. www.cuba-pictures.com

The billboard above takes a more aggressive stance in declaring a Cuban timocracy. However, it still clearly demonstrates a position that implies Cuba’s existence as a state that values ‘honor, glory, and competence’ over ‘power, class, and privilege’. As such, it is logical that when notions of the nation’s independence and autonomy are advanced, the ‘other’ becomes a critical negative factor of a particular community’s discourse of existence. Hall poses the question: ‘What is the secret fascination with “otherness,” and why is popular representation so frequently drawn to it?’ (Hall, 1997: 25) While in the United States and other consumer cultures the billboard typically acts as commodity space, and therefore renders itself virtually invisible, the Cuban counterpart also performs an act of advertising, albeit an advertising that ‘sells’ a state-authorized timocratic community. As such, the billboards become a graphic assemblage of nationalistic ideals intended to invoke a unified ideological power of community, transmitted through the use of an easily recognized form of media.

Panopticism and the landscape of normalization

So far, the discussion has focused on the timocratic Cuban community as it has been established through a publicly visual strategy of classificatory actions, propaganda, and hero reification. However, as stated in the introduction, I would now like to turn to Cuba’s public proyectos de arte and argue that they also create a panoptic landscape, which is intended to promote a community of self-surveillance. In order to justify my proposal, I will turn to Vaz and Bruno’s ‘enlargement of the conception of self-surveillance’ (2003: 273). I will begin with Vaz and Bruno’s postulate that ‘any practice of surveillance entails self-surveillance as its historical counterpoint and it is this simultaneity that accounts for the acceptance and legitimization of power relations.’ By relying on their concept of self-surveillance, I will endorse their criticism that recent works relating to the Panopticon ‘excessively emphasize the surveillance of “them” on “us,”‘ while self-surveillance goes beyond Foucault’s conception of an ‘invisible but unverifiable force’ (Foucault, qtd in Vaz and Bruno, 2003: 274) because it also requires a ‘normalizing judgment’.

The Spanish phrase in the title of this paper, ‘En Cada Barrio’, is a reference to a slogan that has become popularized in murals found throughout the island. The murals typically read, ‘En Cada Barrio — Revolucion’. [Revolution in Each Neighborhood] (see figure 6). This obviously pro-revolutionary statement implies a nationalistic pride in the results of the Cuban rebellion of 1959. While at first glance these murals enforce the same strategy of praising honor and glory that was demonstrated in the billboards, the text is also meant to be read as a graphic reminder of Cuba’s national organizations that have been instituted for the purpose of supervising its citizens at the neighborhood (barrio) level.

Figure 6: Revolution in Each Neighborhood. Photo by the author

One of the best known and most effective of these neighborhood monitoring organizations are the CDRs or Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. The CDRs were created (in September 1960) to act as neighborhood groups focused on monitoring and averting counter-revolutionary (or counter-community) activities. In addition to monitoring the activities and whereabouts of the citizens in their neighborhoods, the CDRs are also responsible for organizing mass support for public demonstrations (Rabkin, 1991). As the committees have gained strength, they have ‘become the chief instrument whereby the government [presses] its demand that the citizen participate actively in the revolution’ (Rabkin, 1991: 48).

In order to legitimize my argument that the En Cada Barrio murals initiate a panoptic landscape of community, I would like to refer to Foucault’s statement that ‘the major effect’ of the panoptic device is to ‘induce ‘ a state of consciousness and visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power’ (Foucault, 1977:201). Let me state that my employment of the notion of Panopticon or panoptic devices is not intended to evoke the literal design of Bentham’s prison; rather, my use of Panopticon comes close to Gandy’s reading of panopticism ‘as a technology of power realized through the practice of disciplinary classification and surveillance referred to as the panoptic sort’ (Gandy, 1993: 9).

In addition to Gandy’s reformulation of the ‘panoptic sort’, I would like to borrow from Webster and Robbins’ (1986) conception of an alternative to the physicality of Bentham’s prison. Webster and Robbins propose that information technologies

support ‘ the same dissemination of power and control, but [they]

are freed from the architectural and geographical constraints of Bentham’s stone and brick prototype. On the basis of the information revolution, not just the prison or factory, but the social totality, comes to be part of the hierarchical and disciplinary Panoptic machine. (1986: 346) In this sense, not only do the actions and responsibilities of the CDRs’ syndics act as ‘panoptic sorts’, but also the En Cada Barrio murals exemplify the Committees’ contributions to the revolution by acting as information networks (technologies)that are ‘based on a system of permanent registration, ‘ [where] reports from the syndics [are passed] to the intendants, [and likewise] from the intendants to the magistrates’ and so on up the hierarchical ladder’ (Foucault, 1977: 196). As such, a popularly understood form of graphic representation ‘comes to be part of the hierarchical and disciplinary Panoptic machine’ (Webster and Robbins, 1986: 346) (see figure 7). The literal panoptic agents, i.e. , the wardens of the neighborhood CDRs, act to mobilize against the extraordinary evil of imperialist dominance and anti-revolutionary activities, while the signs that promote the CDR’s and other state initiated, timocratic promotions and ideological messages, act as a generalizable model of functioning: a way of defining power relations in terms of everyday life.8

Figure 7: En Cada Barrio Revolucion (Note the CDR insignia on the far right of the photo). Photo courtesy of David Stanley. www.cuba-pictures.com

These murals, operating as extensions of the ‘panoptic machine’, foster what Gandy refers to as the ‘process of “active self formation”‘ (1993: 10). Gandy credits ‘active self formation’ to Foucault’s description of a practice ‘being mediated by some external authority figure. In the contemporary stage of this process’, authority figures may be selected and defined instrumentally but reinforced by an autonomous cadre of cultural experts whom we rely on to tell us “what’s in” and “what’s not!”‘ (10). Gandy argues further that this mediation of ‘objectification’ cultivates the implementation of an additional facet of the power/knowledge relationship.

The additional facet that Gandy refers to is the concept of normalization, which is a byproduct of a normalizing judgment. In effect, a normalizing judgment seeks to punish those who do not conform to the institution. However, a normalizing judgment is not only utilized to identify those worthy of punishment, but also seeks out those who are worthy of praise by the institution or power holder (Smart, 1985). In effect, those who seek the praise of the institution have become normalized. The CDR’s mural project and its insinuation of the strength and honor of the revolution, in addition to its connection to a network of syndics, works in concert with the earlier mentioned billboards in suggesting that those who adhere to the values of the state’s political ideology are worthy of being members of a timocratic community, while those who do not will be found out and punished. Hence, an armature for the normalization of Cuba’s citizens has been proposed via an extensive network of landscape elements.

Some evidence of the effects of this normalizing armature, and, in my opinion, the success of a disseminative strategy carried out through the implementation of an easily understood public medium, is manifest in pro-revolutionary graffiti found in Cuba. The following example of locally produced graffiti acts as an ad hoc sign supporting the 26th of July movement (see figure 8). The 26th of July was adopted as a symbol of Cuban autonomy against oppressive forces by Castro supporters after his failed attempt to invade the Moncada barracks on the 26th of July 1953. This date continues to remain a symbol of Cuban revolutionary ideals and as such can be seen throughout the island in the form of murals, billboards and graffiti.

Figure 8: Forever Live the 26th. Photo by the author

My assertion that these ad hoc signs are the result of normalizing judgments, or better yet, serve to display the formation of a Cuban community, is open for debate. I would like to argue, however, that this vernacular reaction to state produced revolutionary propaganda, which in a manner of action mimics the state’s campaign, at the very least supports Negri’s concept of a multitude as it has been formed by singularities. Negri claims that

[T]he multitude is an ontological power ‘ the multitude embodies a mechanism that seeks to represent desire and to transform the world — more accurately: it wishes to recreate the world is in its image and likeness, which is to say to make a broad horizon of subjectivities that freely express themselves and that constitute a community of free men. (2004: 112)

The existence of the citizen-produced signs in the Cuban landscape lends credence to the notion that a multitude of singularities can in fact establish community. In this case, a faction of the multitude has embraced the timocratic values that suggest that honor, tribute, and magnificence form the highest principle of government. In reflecting further on the relationship between singularities and the common, Negri points to the ‘constitutive power of singularities’: ‘singularity always points to the common: the common is its product; and singularities arise from the proliferation of the common’ (2004: 150).9 In this sense, politically oriented signage in Cuba begins to form a multitudinous apparatus of community as its product.


The Latin American island of Cuba has served as contested ground for centuries. Whether under the authority of Spanish rule, the influence of American industrial capitalism, or a corrupt Republican government’s regime,10 the people of that country have suffered a long history of political struggle. As such, the Cuban culture is rooted in several layers of a historical and political fight for identity and for the community that accompanies and grows from that identity. The insurgent spirits of Fidel Castro, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and others are the main component of a contemporary Cuban community that promotes a posture that is both revolutionary and timocratic.

This sense of a common identity has largely been represented, or re-presented, to the Cuban people through an assemblage of public signs that serve a dualistic function: first, they promote a narrative of community that places honor and glory as opposed to class and privilege as the highest form of government, and second, they act as panoptic devices promoting a self-surveilled community that fosters a normalized Cuban cultural landscape. ‘En Cada Barrio’ [In Each Neighborhood] is a reference not only to the character of the Cuban revolution of 1959, but also to the physical presence of these graphically oriented materials that constantly refer to the revolution as a model of power/knowledge that establishes the discursive realm of community.

The implication that politically oriented graphic materials placed in the Cuban landscape, such as billboards and murals, reveal a set of cultural values imposed by those in power, suggests the formation of a visually oriented, ‘top down’ (Marxist) ideology. However, a closer reading asserts Foucault’s suggestion that power can also be transmitted in an ascending fashion. As such, a network of public signage works to construct the nexus of Cuban identity, belonging and community. This visually constructed ideological position draws on narrative references to history and events as well as place. The messages contained in these graphic texts can be read as reflections of national pride, timocratic values, the imposition of surveillance, or as the proctor of a normalizing judgment.

The overtly political messages found in these billboards and murals, both of which are media types that are easily recognized, lend credence to Crane’s proposal that ‘how meaning is conveyed is as important as what meaning is conveyed’ (1992: 78). In considering Crane’s postulate, one can begin to weigh the effect of this community of signs on the formation of a contemporary understanding of Cuban belonging.

It is not my intention to imply that the current socio-political realities or the practices of the present Cuban government operate without internal dissention. Instead, I have tried to focus on a Foucauldian framework to theorize how this network of landscape elements acts as a schema which operates to classify a sense of Cuban community. Reflecting on my own desire to attempt to classify Cuban community, I have found it helpful to refer to Douglas’ assertion that

Communities classify in a different mode [than individuals]. ‘ institutions survive by harnessing all information processes to the task of establishing themselves. The instituted community blocks personal curiosity, organizes public memory, and heroically imposes certainty on uncertainty. In marking its own boundaries it affects all lower level thinking, so that persons realize their own identities and classify each other through community affiliation. (1986:102)

With this final reading of the institution of community, I offer that the network of Cuban signage that I have included in this work should be recognized as a critical element in the understanding of a landscape of Cuban community.


1 It is important to note that this section of the paper is not intended to be an inclusive history of Cuba or of the complexities that dictate its past, present, and future but rather as an attempt to offer a brief look at the major revolutionary events that have helped to form a contemporary Cuban identity.

2 While members of the Cuban rebellion declared their success in 1897 and American interests took the opportunity to increase their ownership of Cuban agricultural grounds, the then U.S. President William McKinley refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of the new government.

3 Kapcia’s text includes a more in-depth historical reference to some of Batista’s Cuban opponents. For a more inclusive reading of the historical context see Kapcia (2005: 64).

4 While Cubanidad and Cubania are terms that are easily recognized and defined within the Spanish language, I draw on these terms as defined in the glossary in Kapcia’s text (see Kapcia, 2005: xiii).

5 Angeles distinguishes between a Platonic conception of timocracy and an Aristotlean definition. I have decided to enlist a description that combines the elements of both.

6 For a complete reading of Foucault’s theory on ‘dividing practices’ see Foucault (1973), Chapter 3, ‘Classifying’.

7 It is important to indicate that the conception of ‘self’ that this article refers to is the ‘self’ as established by Mead; a ‘self’ that is ‘bound as it is with social interaction and language’ rather than the Cartesian notion of ‘solitary [self]’ (Baert, 1998: 68).

8 The italicized terms are taken from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Chapter 3, ‘Panopticism’. The emphasis is my own although the terms are repeated throughout the chapter.

9 It should be noted that Negri’s position on singularity is a response to the Deleuzean notion of singularity, which places a great deal of emphasis on the suggestion that singularities often ‘stammer’. Negri argues that this stammering in turn further strengthens and defines the singular.

10 It would be fair at this point in history to add the current regime’s standing as another episode of Cuba’s political contest.


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