Cuba became a major center for poster design after the revolutionary force led by Fidel Castro defeated the regime of President Fulgencio Batista on New Year’s Day in 1959. Many eras have passed in Cuba since Fidel Castro took office in 1959 after the Revolution, but the special character of the graphic art spawned in that chaotic, fertile moment has endured. In Cuba, posters were, and continue to be, popular tools to disseminate ideas, to encourage the Cuban people in the construction of a new society and to spread information on government programs and/or propaganda. The ideal democratic art form, poster art as it has flourished in Cuba also developed a unique idiom in film, music and sports.
Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar was the elected President of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, and U.S.-backed dictator from 1952 to 1959, before being overthrown during the Cuban Revolution. Fulgencio Batista initially rose to power as part of the 1933 Revolt of the Sergeants that overthrew the authoritarian rule of Gerardo Machado. He then appointed himself chief of the armed forces, with the rank of colonel, and effectively controlled the five-member Presidency. He maintained this control through a string of puppet presidents until 1940, when he was himself elected President of Cuba on a populist platform. He then instated the 1940 Constitution of Cuba, considered progressive for its time, and served until 1944. After finishing his term he lived in Florida, returning to Cuba to run for president in 1952. Facing certain electoral defeat, he led a military coup that preempted the election.
Back in power, and receiving financial, military, and logistical support from the United States government, Batista suspended the 1940 Constitution and revoked most political liberties, including the right to strike. He then aligned with the wealthiest landowners who owned the largest sugar plantations, and presided over a stagnating economy that widened the gap between rich and poor Cubans. Eventually it reached the point where most of the sugar industry was in U.S. hands, and foreigners owned 70% of the arable land. As such, Batista's increasingly corrupt and repressive government then began to systematically profit from the exploitation of Cuba's commercial interests, by negotiating lucrative relationships with both the American Mafia, who controlled the drug, gambling, and prostitution businesses in Havana, and with large U.S.-based multinational companies who were awarded lucrative contracts. To quell the growing discontent amongst the populace—which was subsequently displayed through frequent student riots and demonstrations—Batista established tighter censorship of the media, while also utilizing his Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities secret police to carry out wide-scale violence, torture and public executions; ultimately killing anywhere from hundreds to 20,000 people.
Slum (bohio) dwellings in Havana, Cuba in 1954, just outside Havana baseball stadium. In the background is advertising for a nearby casino
Catalyzing the resistance to such tactics, for two years (December 1956 – December 1958) Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement and other nationalist rebelling elements led an urban and rural-based guerrilla uprising against Batista's government, which culminated in his eventual defeat by rebels under the command of Che Guevara at the Battle of Santa Clara on New Year's Day 1959. Batista immediately fled the island with an amassed personal fortune to the Dominican Republic, where strongman and previous military ally Rafael Trujillo held power. Batista eventually found political asylum in Oliveira Salazar's Portugal, where he lived until his death on August 6, 1973, near Marbella, Spain.