Cold War Kids: This Time It's Youth, Not Ideology, Igniting Unrest

By Cobb, Russell; Associate Professor of Latin American Studies et al. | The Canadian Press, August 18, 2017 | Go to article overview

Cold War Kids: This Time It's Youth, Not Ideology, Igniting Unrest


Cobb, Russell, Associate Professor of Latin American Studies, Alberta, University of, The Canadian Press


Cold War kids: This time it's youth, not ideology, igniting unrest

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Russell Cobb, Associate Professor of Latin American Studies, University of Alberta

Just when you thought the Cold War could be consigned to museums and thrillers like The Hunt for Red October, along came Donald Trump's threats of "fire and fury" in North Korea and military intervention in socialist Venezuela.

And then there's the even more bizarre case of Cuba.

In a twist worthy of a John Le Carre novel, diplomats from the United States and Canada stationed on the island nation fell ill in the past year due to some sort of "sonic attack." The diplomats suffered hearing loss, nausea and other symptoms similar to a concussion.

After they returned home, an investigation only deepened the mystery. Was Russia involved? And what about the turn toward dictatorship in Venezuela: Was Cuba pulling the strings? The Cold War was back and hotter than any time since Ronald Reagan joked about bombing the Soviet Union.

While the Cold War was a war of ideas between revolutionary movements and economic theories, this latest dust-up between Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro, and Trump obscures the fact that across the Americas, the new battle does not break along traditional ideological lines of right versus left. While it may look like the Cold War Redux, a closer look reveals a generational divide as opposed to a political one.

Ideology everywhere

As a doctoral student specializing in the cultural Cold War in Latin America, I saw how ideological polemics permeated everything: from folk music to the poetry of Pablo Neruda, so much depended on one's position on controversies like the Cuban Revolution, the civil wars in Central America and the status of Puerto Rico.

Then I went to Cuba. I studied Afro-Cuban percussion with a religious man whose only framed portrait in his living room was a photo of him hugging Fidel Castro, even though the Revolution often marginalized and denigrated manifestations of his Afro-Cuban religion.

The same people who loved to sing the popular ode to Che Guevara, Hasta siempre, Comandante, were budding capitalists, running small restaurants or ferrying tourists around in their 1950s Oldsmobiles as a side hustle to their "real jobs." The people most adept at the side hustle or startup weren't necessarily more right-wing than their status quo compatriots. But they were definitely younger.

Guevara, who spelled out the ethos of the "authentic" revolutionary in an essay called "Socialism and the New Man in Cuba", would have been outraged. The ultimate goal of the revolution was to replace monetary incentives -- capitalism in any form --with the moral incentive of building a just, fair and equitable society under socialism.

Side jobs needed to survive

While Guevara died fighting for this cause in the jungles of Bolivia, his ideas endure: Tu ejemplo vive - "your example lives on" - is a popular billboard throughout the country.

As president of the National Bank, Guevara was happy to preside over the demise of the Cuban tourist industry. Tourism, for the revolutionaries, replicated structures of neocolonialism and exploitation. …

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