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What is it like to live in North Korea, Venezuela, China, Cuba and Soviet Union

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Trained in the ranks of the communist party, this Venezuelan physicist knew communism inside in North Korea, in Cuba and in the Soviet Union itself. He managed to get out of the tentacles of the red ideology when he began to reflect on the effect that a system of this nature has on society and on the individual. A fascinating story told by an insightful character that I share with you below.

Maibort Petit

In North Korea, "People don't show the emotions to avoid being punished.

- Could it be that we Venezuelans can reach that state of lethargy?" he asked in horror.

Talking about the subject, I asked him if he wanted to meet the enigmatic Venezuelan who had awakened his critical conscience during his visit to the North Korean capital and who today was one of the few who see in Venezuela an optimistic future full of changes. Jesus arranged for me a conversation—via Skype—with Heli Arrieta, a physicist who speaks as a political scientist, and who learned to fray the essence of communism until he presented it to converts as the basis of an unwanted society.

Arrieta is 57 years old. His speech speaks volumes. With slow speech, rich vocabulary and reflections that denote experience and knowledge, he explained how it is possible to get rid of the manipulation and control of red ideology. He lives in Maracaibo and says he is part of the group that decided to stay in the country.

"I am in love with these lands and their people and I refuse to be part of the diaspora," he clarified once we connected.

We began by talking about his years of militancy in the communist party of Venezuela and his wanderings through countries that have been the icon of the failed socialist model, such as the defunct Soviet Union, Cuba and North Korea.

Youth groups for communist
Venezuela Communist youth

It makes the human being just an aggregate to the supreme leader Kim Jong Un's idea of his subjects. Arrieta was a member of the communist youth. In those years of militancy, relationships and commitments were forged that led him to participate in one of the festivals held in Pyongyang.

"Yes, obviously as a young man I was excited when I was part of a delegation that left Caracas for Pyongyang. The reason for these activities was to increase our experience and knowledge of communism. The participants were people who linked to the left from several countries of the world in these meetings," he recalls with some disdain.

Arrieta explains that during the festivals, the young attendees carried out cultural, sports, recreational activities and discussions framed within the framework of the communist ideology.

There were many Venezuelans who were encouraged to participate in these international events. In fact, for the XIII festival of world communist youth, the delegation of Venezuela was made up of about 50 people, he said.

In those years, Arrieta was studying physical sciences at the University of Zulia. That meeting — which was attended by people from all over the world — was very interesting from a human point of view, he said.

It was an opportunity to interact with different cultures, "and from the personal point of view it was enriching and left me with a lot of reflections, especially in that country with the characteristics that many people know and with others that the world does not know until today".

Walking the streets of North Korea, seeing and appreciating with your own eyes what a lot of people say it is—definitely—allowed me to connect with my analytical self.

I was able to reflect and understand perfectly the results that the system produces. In North Korean society, he says, nothing is done outside of ideology, it is a static, immovable world and the cruelty of the system is seen in the eyes of the fearful and jealous crowd even in its own shadow.

The architecture of the capital of North Korea is impressive. Pyongyang shows in its wake a unique design with an atmosphere that is often difficult to qualify in first impressions. In the landscape it seems that typical sounds of the city escape, the small details and, especially, the population that is extremely different, with its own characteristics that you do not get in other places.

He narrates that when you walk through the streets of the North Korean capital you hear a kind of mystical music, sad that causes sorrow.

"No matter what corner you are in, the mysterious sound follows you and seems to immerse you in another dimension that is not easy to explain in words."

A mass of concrete

In Pyongyang there is no combination of ancient elements with modern or postmodern, but the city is adorned by huge concrete structures that respond to strange and bizarre figures.

The pastel colors are the most used, which become a kind of fatigue factor to the eyes. The excess of concrete is revealed by the custom of looking in other cities for constructions in other materials. The view of the Ryugyong Hotel imposes a futuristic sense on the landscape that threatens to remain embodied in another century.

In Pyongyang nothing breaks the mold, because the architecture of the city has only one tendency and it is not possible to achieve in all the space any alternative that shadows the predetermined domination of a colossal architecture, made in the image and likeness of the almighty state embodied in the supreme leader.

What impresses most about Pyongyang is the people with a curious opacity and demeaning to being.

In North Korea there are almost no people on the streets, no traffic or street activities, no free spaces and no smiles in people, it seems a city where dynamism is denied.

In North Korea famine killed thousands of citizens

The story of North Korea stems from the Japanese occupation of Korea, which ended in 1945 with the end of World War II. By that time, Korea was divided into two parts: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) controlled the northern part, and the United States army the southern part. In 1948, two independent governments were established in the North and the South, each claiming sovereignty over the whole of Korea.

In 1950 the North Korean army crossed the border (a point known as the 38th parallel) and attacked the South. The war lasted until July 27, 1953, when the United Nations (UN), the People's Republic of China, and North Korea signed the Korean War armistice.

North Korea was led from 1948 by Kim Il-sung until his death on July 8, 1994. Then, on October 8, 1997, his son Kim Jong-un was appointed Secretary General of the Korean Labor Party and in 1998 assumed power. In the late 1990s, the country's economic crisis deepened and the food production and distribution system collapsed. Numerous North Koreans entered China illegally in search of food.

Today, North Korea is one of the most isolated countries in the world, with severe restrictions on entry or exit from the country. The state controls all sectors, including the press. The official ideology is Juche. The current dictator, Kim Jong Un, pushed through a nuclear program that has generated controversy in several countries, especially the United States and the European Union.

The North Korean regime is considered one of the cruellest and most closed at present.

A closed and emotionless society, Arrieta witnessed the events that the Soviet Union experienced with the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev to power and the reformist movements of Perestroika and the policies of openness known as Glasnost, which led to the fall of the USSR within a few years.

Arrieta recalled that the activities of the world Communist Youth lost funding after the demise of the USSR. When Hugo Chavez came to power, the meetings resumed in Caracas, but he never reached the majesty of those that occurred in the Soviet era, he said.

Arrieta comments that North Korea is definitely a different country where you can see at first glance the agony of a society that is about to succumb to eternal lethargy.

People do not live but "function" as a tiny piece of a huge monster that denies its components the right to even breathe and connect with their senses and thoughts.

- When I arrived in North Korea I found a different world, a country that impacts you, governed by a mathematical order in the way you handle and how to behave. It could be said that this is how far the citizens should think.

In North Korea the individual is totally anonymous, thinking is almost forbidden, no one can do it freely, says Arrieta.

"There the world is ruled by propaganda and anything that goes out of there, outside the line of the state, is eliminated immediately. Individuals are anonymous, there's no dissent, no critical thinking, or anything like that. There is the leadership of the Democratic Party of the Republic of North Korea and the man comes and goes to what the party and the great leader want to show."

In the times when there are international sports or cultural gatherings at each event there are a lot of people who applaud enthusiastically, but it is not because they want to be there but they are taken and the choreography indicates that they must applaud like this enthusiastically, as if they were happy to be there, explains this ex-communist.

- Anywhere in Pyongyang you stand and look at a 60 or 70 degree angle you're going to see a banner, a photograph or a statue of the great leader Kim Jong-un.

There is no place in your life that is not marked by the party's pattern, by the state discourse, even architecture itself is an architecture where the individual as such disappears. The city is monumental, lavish, any building in which you stand in front is enormous, where you as an individual are reduced to the omnipresence of the State.

In his days in North Korea he was always attended by party members, who served as permanent guides or translators. He remembers that one night, he was with a friend looking for a place where they had stayed to meet and observed something that woke him up. "We got lost and didn't get the site. The architecture, the design of the city, its urbanism responds to control criteria. That city is not growing like any other city in the world. No. When you walk around the free world—although I don't like to use that term—you can see how cities grow over time, move, are dynamic. In Pyongyang the same thing does not happen, there everything that is made, done is and everything is controlled, even how the houses are made. On that night, because we were lost, we fell into a kind of large complex of buildings and observed that the attitude of the individual was one of zeal and enormous fear. They saw us with eyes that my friend and I were not able to walk more than 5 meters, horrified, we began to back off. I can't tell you what impression we made on them, but what I can assure you is our impression that they were seeing individuals who were causing them jealousy, fear to such an extent that we perceived them as aggressive.

Arrieta points out that anything that North Korean citizens see that is not within the party's pattern, they view with fear.

There the control is absolute, it is the most perfect model of dictatorship, to such an extent that if the state discovers at some point in your life that your great-grandfather made a criticism or was not consistent with the party line, you are imprisoned today, even if you are the great-grandson.

The citizen pays for the political sin that his ancestors may have committed, so extreme care and permanent fear are imposed.


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