• Maibort Petit

Life in North Korea, Venezuela, China, Cuba and Soviet Union

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.

by Maibort Petit

Freedom Voice

Venezuela Politica

Sin Filtros

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.

Photo of trolls
Under Comminism and especially in North Korea, there is no individualism

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.

photo of the Ryugyong Hotel
Ryugyong Hotel

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.


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.

photos of north korean dictator
North Korea signs of leader are all over

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.

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 died,

they were killed with a bombing of their 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.

photo of mourning of the Nk leader
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."

photo of General Ochoa
The day they shot General Ochoa

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.

photo of Arbat Street in Moscow
Arbat Street in Moscow

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."