One of the oddest chapters in the annals of the Cold War was its proxy war by magazine, and the oddest Cold War magazine was undoubtedly Tricontinental. Based in Havana and art-directed by legendary poster designer Alfredo Rostgaard, Tricontinental was the official publication of OSPAAAL, one of the many revolutionary acronyms liberated by Fidel’s triumph in 1959. OSPAAAL stood for Organization in Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and its magazine was available in each of the New World’s great colonial languages: English, French, and Spanish. Some issues were even available in Arabic and Italian.
What made all of this truly strange, however, was Tricontinental’s design. Compared to dismally drab Soviet attempts at cultural propaganda — or the comically guileless efforts of the Chinese — the Cubans had something uncontrivable going for them: it looked like they were having fun. Tricontinentalresembled an underground zine from San Francisco more than an information vehicle for Third World liberation, and that juxtaposition had an effect comparable to that moment in Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil when a gang of black nationalists in a municipal junkyard read from a stilted manifesto while necking with white women in abandoned cars. Tricontinental’s covers were deliriously poppy, with bright, eyecatching graphics, making it just the sort of thing Marighella’s urban guerrillas should never be seen carrying in public.
At the height of its fame, the magazine boasted more than 30,000 subscribers in some eighty-seven countries. Most issues featured a poster insert demonstrating Cuban solidarity with one or another righteous global political struggle. Those posters found their way to college dorm rooms and kiosks across the globe, with young people from Berkeley to Beirut lining up to join OSPAAAL’s solidarity-of-themonth club.