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Opposite sides of planet but people suffer for same reason

Opposite sides of planet but people suffer for same reason

by William H. Benson

December 31, 2014

The two Communist holdouts from the Cold War dominate the news again: Cuba on one page, and North Korea on the other.

First, President Barak Obama wants to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba after five and a half decades of Communist rule. Then, the FBI has traced “one of the most punishing cyber-attacks on a major American corporation in recent memory” back to the Guardians of Peace, all because of a new movie that mocks Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s dictator.

Both Cuba and North Korea are Stalinist-styled governments: Brutal, repressive, and tyrannical. Since 1959, a single family has controlled Cuba: The Castro family, or Fidel and his brother Raul.

Since 1946, a single family has controlled North Korea: the Kim family – Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un; or father, son, and grandson.

Those fortunate Cubans who fled their country decades ago and found refuge in Miami have adapted to American life, and some have even prospered and become wealthy. Conditions though in Cuba are appalling. The automobiles are of 1950’s vintage, the economy is stagnant, critics are silenced, and no one in Cuba today claims much wealth, except the Castro brothers and their friends.

The two countries lost legiti-macy decades ago.

South Korea is a rich economic powerhouse, but North Korea has no allies, not even Russia or China, produces nothing the world needs, suffers under the heaviest trade sanctions on Earth, but terrifies the world with its nuclear tests. The Korean people north of the DMZ suffered through a devastating self-induced famine in the 1990’s that, it is rumored, resulted in cannibalism.

The government responded with a program it called, “Let’s Eat Two Meals a Day.”

Both governments in Cuba and North Korea terrorize their people. In 1959, after Fidel Castro seized control of the island, he executed hundreds who had opposed him, saying, “We are not executing innocent people or political opponents. We are executing murderers, and they deserve it.”

Kim Jong-un is 31 years old – too young to own a nuclear arsenal – and, since 2011, he has ruled hard over the North Koreans. By executing dozens, if not hundreds, he has purged the country of his suspected enemies. On Dec. 12, 2013, the state media warned the people that the army “will never pardon all those who disobey the order of the Supreme Commander.”

The United States government instituted trade embargoes upon Cuba and North Korea more than five decades ago, and they failed to weaken the Castro or the Kim families’ grip on power.

Instead, the sanctions impoverished and starved the people. “Isolation has not worked,” said Obama, referring to Cuba. “It’s time for a new approach.”

Before Obama would re-establish relations with Cuba, he insisted that Cuba release Alan Gross, a contractor imprisoned in Cuba for five years.

Gross was arrested when working to expand Internet access for Havana’s Jewish community, an act that Cuban officials considered “undermining the state.” Cuban officials released Gross in exchange for the release of three Cuban spies imprisoned in America.

Both countries have refused to provide their citizens with the latest technology. Cuba’s citizens want to own cellphones, but the phones they buy cannot access the World Wide Web.

A Korean-American named Suki Kim published this month her memoir of her days teaching English at a North Korean university.

She entitled her book, “Without You, There is No Us,” and in it she describes the students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, who “do have access to an internal network, or intranet, but it’s not connected to the Internet, and they use their computers mostly as dictionaries.”

The sight of these whiz kids, Suki Kim writes, “staring blankly at screens was so pathetic that I was seized by a pang of anger, mixed with sadness, and soon left the room.”

Kim Jong-un’s government did display some technical skill when the Guardians of Peace routed their cyber-attacks “through China and then through servers in Singapore, Thailand, and Bolivia.”

An interesting fact. Kim Jong-il, who died on Dec. 17, 2011 at the age of 70, owned a huge collection of Hollywood movies, estimated between 20,000-30,000. He especially loved watching Sean Connery’s James Bond movies, and Kim Jong-il was such a great fan of Elvis Presley, that the dictator arranged his hair in a bouffant style, wore Elvis-like dark shades, and dressed in jump suits, reminiscent of Elvis’s Las Vegas performances.

Now, his son, Kim Jong-un, feels offended because

Hollywood would dare to ridicule him in a low-brow farcical movie that few people with any sense of discernment would care to watch. So offended is he that he steals from the production company and then makes threats if they release “The Interview.” Someone should remind him that he is not the dictator of the United States.

Citizens of Cuba and of North Korea live on opposite sides of the planet, and yet both suffer for the same reason: The people have no rights because their dictators are committed to Marxist philosophy.

(Bill Benson, of Sterling, is a dedicated historian.)