The prevailing dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela are twins. That is, they share the same essential features.
That should not be surprising given that when Hugo Chávez was president of Venezuela he asked Fidel to help build a totalitarian structure. Castro was so diligent that, to avoid mistakes, he even sent Chavez Cuban personnel with vast experience in these matters. Many of these “experts” still remain in Venezuela.
However, the evolution of international public opinion on both dictatorships are diverging. So much so that Álvaro Vargas Llosa writes in a recent opinion column that:
“while the awareness of the Venezuelan tragedy spreads like an oil spill, the attitude towards Cuba has been ‘normalized’; without any discomfort, the existence of that regime is accepted.”
Vargas Llosa’s concerns beg us to analyze why this is happening.
In our opinion, it’s a marketing issue. That is, an advertising strategy, which can be well or poorly designed, to transform a person or place into a “brand.” From this perspective, two of the key concepts are “image” and “positioning.”
The science of marketing has thoroughly analyzed human psychology, with the aim of discovering which factors drive people’s behavior. Such research has found that it is not so much reason, but emotion, which explains individual preferences.
Every “brand” in order to be successful, must be able to be intimately associated with the “image” that has previously been chosen. The image is composed of tangible and intangible elements, which represent the values that this “brand” wants to transmit to its target audience.
Branding professionals know that the “product” for sale is important, but much more so are the emotions, feelings, and values that are attached to it through brand imaging and communication strategy.
In other words, what a brand image communicates is not some concrete, objective reality, but sensations that by definition are subjective. For that reason, once the soul of the people has forged a perception- positive or negative -, it is very difficult to modify it.
For its part, positioning is the place that the brand occupies in the mind. It gives that person, region, or product an image, which is built through the active communication to the audience of specific attributes, benefits, or distinctive values that were intentionally selected.
Through strong positioning, what is sought is to clearly differentiate from the competition. For this, it is necessary that the desired image has been transmitted and settled. Thus, it’s a battle that develops along mental lines.
In 1959 when Fidel took power in Cuba, marketing as a discipline was not very developed. In spite of this, he was highly intuitive and applied with great success various tactics that are now taught in marketing classes.
He became a “brand.” His image is that of a David defeating Goliath (the United States). That is the one of a myth. The kind of character that fascinates even if he does aberrant things. The Fidel brand is associated with bravery and audacity: a young university student who fought against a dictatorship (that of Fulgencio Batista) and won; a ruler who expanded the education and healthcare for the benefit of all Cubans, especially the poorest. In other words, a benefactor of his people.
It is irrefutable that Fidel has been a cruel dictator. The objective data support this: he kept all his power concentrated in his hands for more than 50 years. During that prolonged period, there was no separation of powers, no independent press, no free and fair elections. He systematically violated the most basic human rights and assassinated, tortured, and filled the jails with political prisoners.
In other words, a vulgar dictator like so many others who have devastated the planet.
However, in the mythology of the brand image that he successfully built, Fidel positioned himself as “someone admirable” among the tyrants of the world. From then on reality, the pure and hard facts, ceased to have relevance; the only thing that happened to matter was the “sensations” aroused in his target audience.
For this reason, it is impossible for the detractors and the defenders of Fidel to maintain a moderately coherent conversation with each other. Both groups move in different worlds. The first, in the sphere of reason and objective facts, while the second, in the realm of subjective emotions and feelings.
And it is precisely in the field of political marketing that the abysmal differences between the Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorships arise, because in other aspects they are very similar.
We must take into account the profound transformation of communication in recent years. It is not a minor consideration. At the time when Fidel built his brand image, access to information was concentrated in a few hands. Therefore, it was easier to manipulate public opinion and prevent the truth from being known. Today it is not like that. For the benefit of humanity, access to information has been democratized, to a large extent, beyond the control of the rulers. It is no longer so easy to hide what happens within a nation because social media exists.
In addition, Cuba is an island, which facilitates its total control. In contrast, Venezuelans have land borders, which allows direct communication exchange. The emaciated physical aspect of the Venezuelans and their despair are eloquent testimonies of what is happening inside Venezuela. Faced with the suffering people in flesh and blood, who have a first and last name, misinforming becomes very difficult.
Through these channels, the brand image of Nicolás Maduro has been built spontaneously: it is not favorable and he can not control it. The feelings it provokes are extremely negative. At this point, it would seem that he does not care much about his international reputation either.
He has not achieved favorable positioning. Consequently, for the world in general and Venezuelans in particular, Maduro is a bloodthirsty despot like so many others who have devastated Latin America.
And when it comes to his communications strategy, Maduro looks like the proverbial bull in the china shop.
This is a stark contrast from both Fidel and Hugo Chávez, who were aware of the importance of brand image and positioning as critical tools to manipulate the international community. Therefore, they were very careful in that regard.
Therefore the difference between Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorships is only subjective mental perception. In everything else, they are identical.