A solitary man sweeps the dry leaves on the wide avenue where not one car is traveling in either direction. He lowers his head and avoids talking with the cameraman. Perhaps it’s a punishment for not applauding with sufficient enthusiasm at a meeting, or not bowing with theatrical reverence before a Party member. The scene of the sweeper on his desolate street is captured in a documentary about North Korea that has circulated on our alternate information networks. A painful testimony, with people all dressed the same, grey depersonalized buildings, and statues of the Eternal Leader on all sides. Hell in miniature, which leaves us with a sense of relief — at least in this case — for not having been born under the despotism of the Kim dynasty.
When Fidel Castro visited Pyongyang in March 1986, almost a million people greeted him, among them thousands of children waving flags with suspicious synchronicity. Cuban television reveled in the chorus that sounded like one voice, in dancers who didn’t differ from each other by even a hair out of place, and in those little ones playing the violin with surprising mastery and anomalous simultaneity. Months after this presidential trip, on the artistic stages of Cuban elementary schools they tried to emulate this robotic discipline. But there was no way. The girl next to me threw the ball seconds after mine had already fallen to the floor, and some abandoned shoe was left behind on the stage after every performance. The Maximum Leader must have felt disillusioned by the chaotic conduct of his people, so different from those syncopated genuflections before the Secretary General of the Workers Party in North Korea.
On Monday the images of thousands of people crying in the streets over the death of Kim Jong-Il called to mind those perfectly timed children. Although our tropical experiment never managed to “domesticate us” like them, we did copy something in the Korean model. In these parts, as well, genealogy has been more determinate than ballot boxes, and the heritage of blood has left us — in 53 years — only two presidents, both with the same last name. The dauphin over there is named Kim Jong-un; perhaps soon they will communicate to us that over here ours will be Alejandro Castro Espin. Just to think about it makes me shudder, as I did one day before those long rows of little girls throwing a ball at the exact same millisecond.
December 20 2011