Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Alina Stefanescu, a fellow blogger with an excellent and instructive website on totalitarianism (Totalitarianism Today) had the courtesy to write about birth of this blog. She also also interviewed me:

A new blog chronicling the images of totalitarianism.

May 21, 2009
Alina Stefanescu
Totalitarianism Today

In my web wanderings, I discovered a wonderful blog which conveys the history of totalitarianism through images. The blog's author, who will heretofore be known as "El Companero" agreed to answer a few questions for me. The image to the right, which I discovered at his blog, reads "Fidel truly carries forward Christ's principles. Save us Fidel from the false priests..." The extent to which propaganda in Cuba made use of religious imagery is explored on El Companero's blog.

Alina: Why did you decide to create your blog, Totalitarian Images? Was there any particular inspiration? A reason why it went from idea to actuality?

El Companero: I strongly believe in the preservation of historical memory across generations, particularly from events and ideologies that were destructive, exclusionists and divisive. To this end I thought of a blog as a powerful tool to articulate ideas, particularly when they are accompanied by images. Since we live in a media based society I thought of focusing on the ‘image’ as an essential communication device to send information and hopefully communicate with others.

My blog is opened to any one interested in the meaning and implications of totalitarianism, particularly the uninformed ones. I refer to those born after the fall of the Berlin Wall totalitarianism could seem like a distant thing extracted from cold war propaganda. Some of them, immersed in different political causes might be confused with images about Che Guevara and certain ideologies without really understanding the implications of supporting political systems that step over individual freedoms and in the name of particular ideals and an alleged “equality”.

Alina: Yes, the young American hipsters are terribly fond of Che Guevara. I've always wondered how he would feel about their iPhones and paraphenalia. Strange the form self-loathing takes these days... But back to your inspiration...

El Companero: My inspiration was nurtured on my personal experience living in a totalitarian society. As a native of Cuba I was born and raised witnessing first hand the damaging effects of power, tyranny, polarization and extremism. I witnessed the so called ‘Repudiation Acts’ in Cuba and saw how neighbors, friends and even family rejected, humiliated and discriminated each other only for thinking differently and being on different sides of the political spectrum.

Alina: I should note that you maintain another blog as well-- a blog about Cuba. Given the extent to which information we receive about Cuba constitutes propaganda for either side of the political spectrum, I was excited to discover this highly personal contribution to the public conversation about Cuba. Did you start blogging about Cuba from some sense of personal interest or duty?

El Companero: My personal interest comes from being a Cuban native, a feeling an internal desire more powerful than myself to inform the world about what is happening inside my country. As you probably know in Cuba the newspapers, radio and TV stations are a property of the government and an instrument for apology and triumphalism, not a mechanism to criticize and inform about the real social, economic and political conflicts of society. My blog is only a grain of sand in a bigger ocean of bloggers, part of a virtual community of Cuban forums and websites that convey information reported from democrats and independent journalists inside the island. My objective is not to consider my blog or my information an absolute truth, but only a part of it with the aim that people around the world informed themselves from different sources (mine, the official reports from Cuba, and many other newspapers and sites) and then reached their own conclusions.

Alina: How would you describe your political perspective (i..e. anti-communist, socialist, independent, Arendtian, post-post-modern, you name it:) Tell me how you got there.

El Companero: I am a strong believer in Human Rights as the basis of modernity. I do not have anything against socialist systems as long as are the result of democratic elections, part of a government based on the rule of law, divisions of power, and utmost respect for individual liberties and divisions of power. In Cuba I hated socialism as I equated it with oppression, but later on as I lived in a democratic system I realized that despotism has many disguises, it could be in the form of socialism, revolution, nationalism and militarism. Thus, now I am a critic of any form of dictatorial government regardless of its ideology.

Alina: Excellent point. Militarism and nationalism seem a particularly dangerous pair in the current environment. But let's talk about abstractions and other things we find in books. Latin American books are sorely missing on my Top 100 Books About Totalitarianism Project. What books would you add?

El Companero: It is not possible to comprehend totalitarianism in its entirety without an analysis of Latin American and Caribbean history. This hemisphere provided an interesting manifestation of totalitarianism in the form of ‘caudillism’. Since its independence from Spain in 1824 Spanish America has lived more time in dictatorship than in democracy. This certainly makes Latin America a case study to understand more about the different manifestations of totalitarianism. The totalitarian influences in Latin America come from strong Spanish patriarchal traditions and African heritage as well as from other ideologies imported from abroad.
  • John Lynch, Argentine Dictator: Juan Manuel de Rosas, 1829-1852
  • John Lynch, Caudillos in Spanish America, 1800-1850
  • Steve Stein, Populism in Perú: The Emergence of the Masses and the Politics of Social Control
  • Carlos Alberto Montaner, Journey to the Heat of Cuba: Life as Fidel Castro
  • Lauren R. Derby, "In the Shadow of the State: The Politics of Denunciation and Panegyric during the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1940-1958" Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol 83, No 2 (May, 2003), 295-344
  • Lauren R. Derby, "The Dictator's Seduction: Gender and State Spectacle During the Trujillo Regime" Callaloo, Vol 23, No. 3 (Summer, 2000), 1112-1146.
  • Robert H. Dix, "Populism: Authoritarian and Democratic" Latin American Reserach Review, Vol 20, No. 2 (May, 1998), 29-52
  • Paul H. Lewis, Authoritarian Regimes in Latin America: Dictators, despots and Tyrants
  • Herando Muñoz, The Dictator's Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet
Alina: Beautiful. I'm going to add the books to my "extras" section on the top 100 totalitarian books page. Obviously, the internet provides a critical tool for you in your blogging about Cuba and totalitarian images. What websites do you find particularly useful and why?

El Companero The blog of Yoanis Sanchez who lives in Cuba where Internet is inaccessible for Cubans and writes a blog that chronicles daily life in the island. Her perspective as a young Cuban is essential to understand what happens in the island from the point of view of someone from the 1980s generation which has been called the Y Generation given that most of them have names that being with ‘Y’.
Latin American Studies In my view this is the best historical web site for documents and history of Cuba and Latin America.
Penultimos Dias This website is from Cuban exiles but its attraction is that it updates very fast on events happening in Cuba.
Cubanalisis Excellent site with books, political comments and resources on Cuba.
The Real Cuba Presents visual evidence and denunciation of human rights violations in Cuba.
CineCuba Unique place that has a collection of most Cuban films/documentaries of all times. One can actually view most of these films, some are subtitled in English.
Cuba Humor The latest caricatures on Cuban politics.

Alina: Okay, finish me off with a favorite quote-- one that reflects where you come from and where you want to go.

El Companero: “Freedom is the right of every man to be honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy.” José Martí


Ludwik Kowalski said...

El Companero wrote:"My inspiration was nurtured on my personal experience living in a totalitarian society."

Me too. But it was in Eastern Europe. It is our obligation to share what we know.

Ludwik Kowalski, Professor Emeritus,

whose new book–”Tyranny to Freedom: Diary of a Former Stalinist,” and its reviews, are now available at

www [dot] amazon [dot] com


Comments will be appreciated, either at the above website or in private. Thank you in advance.



The first chapter is online at


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