Constructing Third World Struggle: the Design of the OSPAAAL & Tricontinental

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Sometimes, political publications are journals with expressive covers; sometimes, they are only the covers (i.e. posters). The Havana-based Organization of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America used to be good at making both, as Josh MacPhee shows us in this text.

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Cover of Tricontinental Bulletin, issue 29-30, 1968.

Whether adorning the dorm room walls of Maoist film students in Paris, the huts of guerrillas in the jungles of Guinea-Bissau, or the newstands of Beirut in the midst of civil war, the posters of the Organization of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (OSPAAAL) played a significant role in creating the imaginary of a liberated Third World throughout the late 1960s and into the early 1980s. Today these Cuban design objects command upwards of $1,500 on eBay, but 50 years ago they were distributed as a free insert in the Tricontinental magazine, one of the publications of OSPAAAL.

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“Solidarity with the African American People.” / Poster by OSPAAAL (1968).

Okay, let’s back up a little. With the onset of the Cold War and the beginning of decolonization, the nations and national liberation movements outside of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. power block began to organize together. Different constellations of states and groups used different names, and the decade of 1955-1965 saw the Afro-Asian Conference, the Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned Countries (otherwise known as the Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM), the Casablanca Group, and the Organization for Solidarity for the People of Africa and Asia (OSPAA). One of attendants of OSPAA was the Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka. He was then a member of the Istiqlal Party and in 1959 would go on to found Union Nationale des Forces Populaires, eventually going into exile in Algeria, where he would support Ahmed Ben Bella and the FLN in their anti-colonial armed struggle against the French. Barka was a charismatic figure, and helped convince the rest of OSPAA that Latin American movements should be included in their activities, leading to the announcement of 1966’s inaugural Tricontinental Conference, where over 500 delegates from 82 countries descended on Havana. Unfortunately Barka would not make it to the conference he convened, disappearing in October 1965 — it wasn’t until 2018 that information was released showing that the Israelis had assassinated him with the help of the French and Moroccan intelligence services.