Why Cubans are so ready for Americanisación 2.0

Life was so miserable in americanised Cuba that the starting point of the Cuban revolution was not just ideological: it was mostly nationalist, and aimed at getting rid of the North American occupation and all its negative consequences.

What did Cubans dislike about the North American occupation? Oh, all of it. The exploitation of the whole country to enrich just a few fat asses. The corruption that went along with it. The lack of possibilities of development for the Cuban people. The fact that rich U.S. citizens were using Cuba as a playground for short but wild debauchery breaks.

Americanisation was worth fighting against.  It was worth all these years of deprivation preceding and following the revolution. Worth these violent fights and casualties. Worth these long decades of poverty imposed by Uncle Sam by means of an utterly unfair blockade.

But whilst the world is now wondering what will happen with Castro dead and Trump in charge, there are very obvious signs that the poor Cuban people are more than ready to be colonised again.

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I’ve seen many people wear US flag coloured clothes across all Cuba during my visit in August 2015.

Don’t imagine that it hasn’t started already anyway. Western goods circulate a lot in Cuba: clothes of course, as Fidel’s well-known Adidas outfits, but much more than that, smuggled more or less openly from family established overseas or other non government sponsored channels. For example I found remarkable that many teenagers had smartphones from a much more recent model than mine.

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I was wondering how a tent from the French make Quechua ended up on a beach in remote Eastern Cuba…

The inhabitants of the cities are all gathering on public squares where public WiFi has been installed; and whilst access is granted against a fee and by using a unique code, so the government knows what you are doing on the Internet, this is very unlikely to prevent the flow of ideas from the rest of the world to permeate into the Cuban society.

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At all times of the day, Cubans gather on the public squares to connect to the WiFi using electronic devices that can’t be purchased in Cuba.

What surprised me most, when I visited Cuba in August 2015 and had good discussions with the local population at several occasions, was that people felt really ready for a greater openness of their country.

There is this widespread belief in Cuban society that the blockade should be blamed for the immense majority of the difficulties Cuba is facing today – this is what propaganda says and I think Cubans are probably right to believe it is true. And what’s most: friendly talks with Obama meant that the end of the blockade, and of the problems, was probably nearby.

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This poster found on the side of the road in Cuba depicts the blockade as the worse genocide of history. Notice the hangman’s knot shape for the letter O!

I visited Cuba in August 2015, before the country was opened to visits from U.S.A. citizens again; and the main form of worries I heard locally were related to the crowds management rather than ideological: how were we going to be able to host masses of additional tourists when the country was already hardly able to put up with the large current number of visitors?

But I also heard some locals who feared that the country would be pulled back to its pre-revolution situation of dependence and almost slavery to its Northern neighbour.

Alas, we live in a post-democratic society where owning an iPhone that can connect to the Internet is much more important than the right to vote for an idiot unlikely to do a good job anyway, so I doubt Cubans will massively fight against Americanisation 2.0 in the coming years.

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I came across this graffiti on a Cuban street. Cuba doesn’t need help?

How well off Cuba will be in this new era of economic colonisation will depend on how the U.S.A. will treat them; and with such leadership as Trump, there is a lot to fear. But history has shown it: every time the U.S.A. treat a country like shit, it ends up bouncing back against them. Can’t wait to see Revolución 2.0 in the years 2040….

 

Propaganda at its best (9): The posters that remind you who you voted for

Spotted in the streets of Yakutsk in July 2016: posters that remind voters who their member of parliament is, and how much they like him!

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The poster simply says “Our deputy Tumusov” and a Facebook like icon. It is interesting that the photo in the poster’s background is not that of the Parliament, but of the Kremlin. Tumusov is an ambitious man!

Fedot Tumusov’s highly democratic methods work really well by the way, as Fedot’s Facebook page has 909 followers, and on Vkontakte (the Russian social medium) he has exactly 5.

Go Fedot!

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Propaganda at its best (8): The monument celebrating love between the natives and the settlers

In Yakutsk, the largest city built on permafrost, the Abakayade Memorial celebrates the union between the Russians and the natives.

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It represents Semyon Deshnev, great Russian traveller of the 17th century, with his Yakut wife Abakayade and their child, the first child born from the union between the settler and the native.

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The monument was created by Maxim Pavlov, a Russian sculptor awarded the title “People’s Artist of Yakutia” by a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Yakutia in 1990.

It was erected in 2005 and can be found at the intersection of Kirova and Poyarkova streets.

Tourism in North Korea: are we actually part of the propaganda?

Imagine for a minute that you are North Korean. Have lived in North Korea all your life, never travelled, and never would imagine leaving the country. You were a pioneer at school, you learned the history of your country and studied the exploits of your great leaders.

And today, on your way to work, you see the following scene: a bus stops on the street, a bunch of foreign tourists get out of it, they are all smiling and obviously very impressed.

They have travelled from really far to see your country. They look absolutely amazed. They take plenty of photos, so they plan to share their wonderment back home with their friends and families!

Wouldn’t that reinforce your faith in the regime?

But what you don’t know, little North Korea citizen as you are, is that the wonderment actually comes from how odd your country is. Giant statues of the great leaders? People bowing in front of them? You actually use your free time to chant propaganda songs or wipe the floor under the propaganda statues?

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School kids wiping the floor under the propaganda statues

This is just absolutely incredible for us. We will show the photos, oh yes, but that’s because the world needs to know how unbelievably weird things are in North Korea.

You also probably don’t know that we are not allowed to take photos everywhere in North Korea; so whenever we’re being told the magic words by our guide: “You can take photos here”, we go wild.

There’s something else that they did not tell you: before entering your country, we received a briefing. They told us how to behave.

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Taking photos from the side of the leader’s statue is off limit, and from the back would be totally disrespectful. We knew this from the briefing so we all behaved accordingly.

 

We don’t admire your regime; we’re just curious and polite, and trying not to get kicked out of your country before the end of our holiday.

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There is a bookshop in Pyongyang that sells propaganda translated into many languages. Many of us bought books: out of curiosity and as surrealistic souvenirs rather than to spread the ideology of Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism in the rest of the world!

As all visitors to North Korea, I went to the Kumsuman Memorial; I did see the bodies of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il; and I did bow, following the rules: in lines of 4, bowing in a sync’d way, first facing the leaders, then at their right, (then walking behind them but not bowing), then at their left.

I did not do this because I admire them or have respect for what they did. I did it because it was a unique chance to get under the skin of you, a North Korean citizen, and to get an insight of what it can be like to live in a totalitarian regime.

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I joined the locals for a dance on the Party Foundation’s day. For me, a lifetime experience: getting a human connection with a citizen from a totalitarian regime; but what was it like for them, and how did they interpret my smile?

But you, little North Korea citizen, do you know all that? Or are you simply proud that I flew so many miles and broke the bank to come and witness your country’s and its leaders’ glory?

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Let’s face it: I am really happy and proud standing in front of the North Korean Party’s monument, but we all know that’s more about the life experience than out of passion for the regime!

Travel theme: bowing under the two Kim statues

This week, Ailsa‘s photo challenge theme is Pairs.

I have chosen the most surrealistic pair I have ever seen: those two giant statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim-Jong-Il in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Originally there was only one statue here, the second was added by current leader Kim-Jong-Un after his father’s death, as it would help increase his own legitimacy.

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The statues by night. Dozens and dozens of citizens are standing at their feet; they will bow all at the same time.

On many occasions, citizens of North Korea gather here, typically as work or school teams, to come and present their respects to the previous supreme leaders. They bring huge flower wreaths, get in line, and bow all together.

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Same place during day time. A group of men is bowing; a group of pioneers girls will be next.

I took these photos at the occasion of the Party Foundation anniversary celebrations in 2014.

Propaganda at its best (6): Here lives a War Veteran

The level of respect populations have for their war veterans is often correlated to how strong a role the war plays in the national propaganda.

In Russia, World War II is still regarded as the Great Patriotic War and Victory Day celebrated with great pomp every 9th of May.

Children thank veterans for the good work they did, veterans are heroes and celebrated, and occasionally you can spot signs indicating where they live:

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A big poster on a building celebrated the veterans from remote town Susuman at the 65th anniversary of the 1945 victory.
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Giant poster where a child thanks the veterans, in remote little town Ust-Nera.
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Susuman, Russian Far-East, on an appartment building Sovietskaya street: Here lives a Veteran of the Great Patriotic War!