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Life in North Korea - part two

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

In North Korea, the perception of reality is replaced by the imposition of the state's description of what you should see, think and act on. Emotions are literally forbidden.

Emotions that are not intended to worship the great leader, are left out, are prohibited and therefore are penalized.

by Maibort Petit

To read part one of this amazing story - click here.

There is a limit imposed by the diplomatic formality of the deal, but from there on the question is enormous. For them to pass outside the periphery marked by the State, means arriving in an unknown world, full of fears and a bewilderment of not knowing where you come from, which is natural in a society that lives under that oppression. In North Korea, the perception of reality is replaced by the imposition of the state's description of what you should see, think and act on.

People live in different processes than ours. You watch it when you talk to them. It is a world built literally to a carbo with which any filmmaker would be amazed, and where the expression of spontaneity, of organization, of what we could call those processes that arise naturally in a society, do not occur there. That is, if we stick to the fact that man acts for an emotion that moves him to express himself, in North Korea emotions are literally forbidden.

And, as he says, in North Korea emotions that are not intended to worship the great leader, are left out, are prohibited and therefore are penalized.

Hence, there are so many stories of people — including army generals — who have been found drinking on the day Kim Jong-il was killed with a bombing of his own home, or one of many who was gunned down for falling asleep in during a speech by the leader.

Arrieta explains that when Kim Jong-il died, he had to cry.

Punished for not crying: Thousands of North Koreans face labour camps for not being upset enough about death of Kim Jong-il
Punished for not crying: Thousands of North Koreans face labour camps for not being upset enough about death of Kim Jong-il

It was very easy to see by the television cameras the crowd crying almost equally and in unison. Those who did not, did not eat and many were killed. Citizens who were able to cry louder and who were spotted by regime officials were better off in front of the state structure.

interpersonal relations

Relationships are limited to zeal, because in any interpersonal relationship, a conversation can lead to any kind of opinion arising, and that opinion could be a reason to condemn the issuer. So people are extremely cautious even when talking to the neighbor, and even to the husband, wife or family, including the children, people hide their emotions.

The stories of Nazi Germany can show the reality of individuals living under such a regime, he recalls.

According to Arrieta, North Korean society is dystopian.

The control of the individual, the control of social relations, makes this an undesirable society. "When you appreciate the perfection of a cruel system like this, you start to reflect and obviously wake up, because you don't want to live in a society like that."

- When I returned from North Korea to Venezuela I understood that I had brought a number of prints, of materials that could only be digested over time and it takes you to maturity.

It is then when you see yourself living in a Venezuela that begins to travel a path from which you come, and after a certain time you realize that you can not resist and that is when you break, you say, this is not going anywhere, here there is too much false story, too much alienation, much manipulation and the weight of an ideology, that if you do not free yourself from that ideology can produce an immense inner castration.

"Fortunately I didn't get there. I managed to reverse myself. There was no commitment that limited me in my personal pretensions, I never assumed any position in the government, I never compromised things beyond my person, I assumed my militancy and I made clear positions against the right and the adeco-copeyano bipartisanship. I put forward my ideas until I was arrested for a few days." There comes a time when you can't keep your speech, Arrieta admits.

- The sowing of ideology, in my case, had the opposite effect to what they expected.

When you get out of the parameters of travel, and that they treat you well, that people are educated and that there is order, but when you go a little further and understand the results of ideology in a society is when you understand that the thing does not lead to anything good. -

How did you wake up from that lethargy?

- No matter how "ideologized" you are, there are many issues that jump out at you and that stay inside you, and make you question yourself and ask yourself questions, you begin to investigate until you manage to run the cortinilla ...

then the truth emerges, a new reflective, questioning look that gives you cause, even, to reflect in retrospect. In my personal case that was a beginning that eventually led to a major ideological distancing with the youth of the communist party.

A single version of events

Arrieta commented that he was in Cuba when General Ochoa was captured.

"I was in a hotel, turned on the radio and heard that the government had captured Ochoa, and I heard all the paraphernalia that arises at that time and the impact on Cuban society, because he was a well-respected general and well liked by the Cuban people, with a deep social ascension in Cuban society."

He describes how he was struck by the fact that the report that was said on television at 8 a.m., was the same one that was said at 12 o'clock and so on, throughout the day, as if there were no other journalist who said something different. "Obviously for a Venezuelan who was used to hearing a diversity of news, from different angles and many looks, back in Cuba you got a single version of events, a unique speech and a single thought. That meant a huge material for reflection and there is the genesis of a deep problem that has happened in Latin America and that is touching Venezuela."

After the USSR, the development of a society

The same experience was had in the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). "When I passed by I had the same impression of families, of Venezuelans who lived there before Gorbachev came to power, and they expressed their concerns and questions about how that society was going to become."

- I was very struck by a street in Moscow, capital of the defunct Soviet Union, called "Arbat", where every meter I got a person riding in a box giving a speech, saying what the country should be like.

There was a range of opinions, some spoke ill of Stalin, others spoke well. It was an explosion of a collective need to speak out, it was feverish, and it responded to years of harsh criticism, repression, denial of freedom of expression.

In Venezuela, foolishness reigns

I never imagined that in Venezuela you could copy the model and foolishness, although it is true that you can preserve the just, balanced and harmonious ideal, which reduces certain problems of injustice, of poverty... but definitely what happened in Venezuela has not yet been fully processed, I think that even the opposition political leadership has not fully spoken out, I never thought that foolishness could reach such extremes of allowing us to reach what we are experiencing today. I didn't think so.

"What is happening now is an unprecedented situation that goes far beyond even affirming that a socialist, revolutionary discourse prevails in Venezuela that leads to a better future. No. What's happening in Venezuela has been over and is out of it. Apart from the fact that many years ago I had realised that it is pointless to divide the political world between left and right, this discourse is no longer infunctional. Over time I have studied a little bit of politics and understood with the study of certain authors that this discourse is a representation with interests.

Arrieta is a physicist and despite having a speech carved out in politics books, he explains that when studying physics the mind is educated to reflect in order to ask questions and investigate what is in front of us and that we can call reality. That ideal, romantic world doesn't hold up much. "Communism, this kind of system that perverts society, does not stand up to much a complete and concrete inquiry, especially if you take care to study the economy a little seriously, and you begin to understand it ... and that's when that romantic world slowly crus. If there is no real, functioning economy that meets collective needs, that society simply does not exist. What is created is a parapto sustained with repression, with propaganda, with discourse at the cost of people's lives."

Revolutionary morality does not exist

When I began to evaluate the issue of economics, I discovered that there is no socialist economy as such, but a great state capitalism, that is, a more perverse capitalist version of the one being denounced.

That ethical world that can sustain your romanticism falls down when you see reality that is highly perverse and unethical. Revolutionary morality is the antipode of a human ethic.

What would you say to the Chavistas who are tearing their garments for a regime that has only caused them hunger and misery?

- I don't like to use the term Chavista.

I prefer that Chávez rest in peace and go down in history with much rest and let history properly locate him. But that individual sympathetic to the process, who lives ruminating on the whole discourse, fortunately every day is a minority. To that group there is nothing that you can say that changes it, because the emotionality where they are submerged, the emotions that move them and that feeds with all this confusion and with a huge dose of resentment (I say this with a lot of pain), of naivety, of manipulation of the State, makes them unable to listen because the reflective spaces unfortunately in some of them are almost castrated.

"Ideology, as it is sold and manipulated, castrates the mind.

That's one of the things that I've noticed strongly, both in North Korea, as well as in Cuba or the USSR. Ideological manipulation restricts your capacity for reflection and there comes a time when the point is such that there is anthropological damage, damage to man, to man.

Do you think Venezuela can become like North Korean society?

- How far a society can go we have no imagination.

Man can be taken to vile levels, abject to ways of living. It is regrettable to reproduce a copy of North Korea. We may end up having a highly undesirable society in Venezuela. It is not that Venezuela's society can become equal to north Korean or Soviet society in its time, but it is an equal society in what is undesirable.

Give me your opinion on Hugo Chavez

— Hugo Chavez came to power because there were a lot of people responsible for bringing him to power and among those responsible is me, because I voted for him.

You are facing one of those responsible for bringing that man to power and I say it with all conviction: I did it because of great confusion, I did it because I was confused, not because I felt identified with him. I take responsibility. I was a member of a party and the party's decision was to support it and, obviously, Chavez manages to enter not by an intellectual way in the "being" of the people. He arrives in a purely emotional way and obviously when he goes to that level things get complicated.

"My perception of Chavez is that he was a man who perhaps wanted to do some things, but with deep intellectual weaknesses.

A man who possessed a social and communicative intelligence, an ability to interact with the masses, undoubtedly proverbial, but on the other hand, with deep deficiencies that led him to take a path that devoured him. Without realizing it, Chavez is submerged in the also now deceased Fidel who, of course, was not going to bring anything good. Chavez got Venezuela into a conflict that was not ours, there was no need to take this path, his advisers were more astute than him and saw that he was an individual who allowed to establish a state of corruption in Venezuela. The people who surrounded him and realized Chavez's discursive raving were leaving him and that made Chavez go into a circle of advisers and extremely nefarious people of confidence, which is that sect that today has kidnapped the country. A mythomaniac group, which has staged coups d'état, which usufructs the image of Chávez that was tried to mythologize, but it was not achieved." In his opinion, Chavez sinned because of his naivety or lack of training, as well as because of his uncontrollable desires, since he was a man who was seen overnight with a huge petty cash product of oil revenues, who could walk around the world and spend millions of millions of dollars in about 10 years "and now there is not even paper to go to the bathroom."

In Arrieta's view, Chávez was a man who betrayed himself, lived and died a victim of that betrayal of himself and those around him.

Of course, Chávez's ending will also be input to the story, reflecting while commenting that Chávez's life was an implosion of emotions at one point. "February 4, 1992, captivated a lot of interests, because we didn't want cap's hunger package. The majority decided to take the body out of the economic reform package, we were not reflective there, we made a big mistake, on February 4 it was stupid in my view, a huge historical error that led society to change a package of neoliberal economic measures for this other package that can not even be called hunger, because it goes far beyond that."

He believes that, fortunately, the plan to build a religiosity, a mystification of the figure of the caudillo, the intention to create a new apostle in Latin America with Hugo Chavez, failed.

"What they expected to happen didn't happen, of course, the myth couldn't be built. It was not possible to deify, sanctify, build the apostolate that was wanted to build on Chavez and, today, you have 75 percent of the population that urgently wants to turn the page on that historic moment." Unfortunately for that majority, the weapons and money are still in the hands of the mythomanian sect that is ruling the country, he warns.

What is common between North Korea, the USSR, Cuba and Venezuela?

- The common thing, without a doubt, is the paralysis of society and the economy.

Getting anything is an odyssey. But there are also certain differences. When I was in the USSR, perestroika and glásnost came along and people took it on feverishly and a good part of society said: we need to have an opinion and this is the opportunity to do so in order to have a different society and that never died in the USSR, especially the countries that were associated with the Union in Central Asia, historically marked by Islam, such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and others, which began to have very strong positions against that process and against the Soviet state. The years of repression are unforgettable. The same thing happened in the Baltic countries, that's why there was the break, first of all with the union of independent states that didn't last long, because the Russian presence was an imperial presence in the USSR and that generated a lot of conflicts.

In the case of Venezuela, he said Helí Arrieta, although it is true that it has an apparent control very well assembled, society is still active and as long as there is the possibility of real electoral consultation, they will always be in check.

"It is not true that they are eight million, that fraud of the constituent did not pass even three million votes, they know that and obviously we know it. There in North Korea they are never going to hold a referendum and even if they do, the process of alienation is such that the individual as such is so diminished that they would vote for what the party says, with exceptions."

In Cuba, the process is different.

In the substrato of Cuban society there is a deep desire to overcome that condition and that will be seen in young people. "The sector most critical of the Cuban dictatorship is the youth, because they are being sold a country that does not exist, 5, 10 and 20 years pass and everything remains the same."

The people who were born and educated in revolution are the most critical of the process, a fact that leads Arrieta to estimate that any minimal opening that occurs or already exists in Cuba, will allow a significant turnaround in that society.

"I don't think that's going to happen in North Korea, where state control is completely absolute."

Then he refers to the case of Venezuela, where in the small percentage that continues to support the process, there is a great deal of resentment because of having felt excluded from the benefits provided by the oil and country revenues that developed before 1989.

"In that minority the ability to reflect on the failure of the socialist model is very difficult, because there is nothing more delicate than combining resentment with the knowledge that you failed."

- There are people who for many years aspired to power by criticizing the rulers, rightly or wrongly, saying what should be done and what should not be done, and when you come to power you repeat the same mistakes but dimensioned.

A good part of the leadership of the PSUV belongs to these people and although they distribute the food bag, they maintain a circle of purchase and, of course, manipulate and maneuver with great skill the hope and the need of the people.

He believes that much of this manipulation is reduced by the characteristics of the crisis in Venezuela and by the lack of petrodollars.

The crisis is such, he stresses, that it is difficult for them to manipulate. "In societies like ours there will always be a tendency to put the guide of our destiny in the hands of others."

Arrieta considers it a regrettable fact that Venezuela has always sought a Messiah to put the country on the right path, which must revolve around the thesis that it is necessary to return him, which they believe they took away from them.

"It's believing that we're rich and that others stole my money and that's why I'm poor. All this cocktail within the apparently logical of socialist discourse, socialist in quotation marks, because the Marxist discourse that floods us through the Cuban route, has an apparent logic, because it has internal contradictions so great that it does not support a minimum analysis. You will always have blind followers, able not to wake up, history shows us cases of collective suicides for believing in a messiah, which leads us to affirm that no society is exempt from it. We are always going to get individuals who repeat what came out of the mouth of Chavez or the current president, just like in Russia and other countries of the former USSR, where you get people who want to repeat the Soviet past, with all that that meant, because there are people who still love Stalin and in China there are people who love Mao." - In North Korea, the grandfather of the current leader, Kim Il-sung, is considered a deity, to the point that many North Koreans believe he is immortal, that that leader never died and would be willing to give his life for any call that supreme leader makes.

That's why I told you that anthropological damage is done in the psyche of the individual, in his inner self, and there comes a time when his capacity for perception is castrated and he is not able to see the real, but not imposed. There are many examples of this in history, how you think the German people embraced Nazism with such fervor, going so far as to commit the horrors that were committed in Nazi Germany for a speech, for following a leader... In Venezuela we almost got to that, but two things happened that were not in their plans: the death of Chávez and the fall in oil prices.

"The fall of the makeup of the mamotreto called Socialism of the XXI century occurred when there was no money to continue paying for it.

Without a productive economy, it is impossible to sustain the system. Socialism could never have an alternative economic model to capitalism."

A different Venezuelan is being bornHelí Arrieta defines himself as an ordinary Venezuelan, in love with his land and its people, "I am a teacher, an ordinary citizen, I have questioned my culture and I have been interested in knowing the Creole culture, the Latin American one, which has so many singularities and, in that search, I have managed to get some answers that have somehow surfaced in this conversation that we have had".

- I'm a lover of reading, of cinema and open to opinions, even if I don't like them.

When I don't like opinions I pay more attention to them, because I think there's something there that I need to know, that happened with my political background, when I knew there was something I didn't like, where I was criticized, I realized that there was a gap to understand what was going on and I started to dismantle the confusion.

"I'm a concerned citizen about what's going on.

I have not wanted to embark on what I have called diaspora fashion, which includes people who do not want to be here, to run away because they do not want to take responsibility for what my actions were. A lot of people who voted for the government, were part of that government and defended it tooth and nail. Those of us who stay, those of us who insist on staying, see the future as prudently optimistic, because the facts confirm that this is an unsustainable process.

He admits the fear that overwhelms him is that in order to sustain the system, the people will be reduced every day in their expressions and in their work as a society, creating a situation in which, to the extent that the people strive for democracy, the regime will push even harder to reduce democracy.

"I am convinced that the hunger for freedom and democracy of the people is going to make this fall apart and that can take many years or a few years."

- It would be irresponsible to put a date on the fall, what is a fact, is that every day the quality of life, public services are reduced more and more, society is impoverished and two classes emerge, one that has access to money, product of a state that has been formed, and the majority of society, which lives on the periphery, outside that dynamic of powerful people that generates more and greater poverty.

Even with this scenario, I am optimistic and my words will serve because the case of Venezuela requires a deep international look, it requires strong pressure from the international community, because without it it is difficult.

He says that the Venezuelan within a conviction of peace has exhausted all the processes and that is why the government gives a coup d'etat, kidnaps the constitution, manipulates it, "because it knows that within the constitutional and democratic framework it has no life. That is why we are asking the world to take strong action within the legal frameworks, but to take Venezuela and not forget it, because here what is happening is of a historical gravity, I would say that it is unprecedented. In the face of this fact, there can be no blind eyes or deaf ears." - There is a birth of a different Venezuelan who wants to build a different society from the one that exists since 1989 until now.

He expresses his deep conviction of change in Venezuelans and says that in the country there is no traditional political system that fits into the canons of orthodoxy, but a model that requires new critical attitudes and new elements because, otherwise, it fails.

"What is cooked up here in Venezuela in power is unimaginable. Don't be afraid to say it and put it as a first-order element in the equation or in the formula that describes what's happening in the country."

We say goodbye with the promise of getting together when there is a change to drink beers in the Zulian heat. "In Venezuela, the regime does not foresee any possibility of an exit, very distant from us citizens."

Would you go back to North Korea?

- If I would feel like it, it would be out of pure curiosity.

I thought about it, but of course I doubt I can return now... Deep down, I don't think so, because I wouldn't have much to do with or look for there.

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