Posts Tagged ‘revolution’
Politics and revolutions are often cyclical. Just ask those intrepid yet forgotten reporters who covered the Cuban Revolution of 1933 — will this generation’s photographers and correspondents be better remembered?
Elected in 1925 in Cuba was Gerardo Machado, who began his political career as a reformer determined to modernize his country, but ended up becoming a paternalistic dictator. But in August 1933, in a political watershed that’s seldom remembered today, Machado’s rule was rocked by a series of industrial strikes as rival factions fought in the streets of Havana.
Anticipating this, International News Photos’ manager Walter Howie had already dispatched their star photographer Sammy Schulman to Havana. On Saturday, August 12, Schulman and newsreelman Jimmy Pergola were walking along the Prado when they heard a burst of gunﬁre. They ran towards the action and found a dignified-looking old fellow lying on the pavement, mortally wounded. Schulman recognized him as Colonel Antonio Jiminez, head of the Cuban Porra, or secret police. He was President Machado’s strong arm, and the most hated man on the island because of his brutality to those who criticized the President.
Standing over him, Schulman recalled how he captured the moment above — the “spark” that fired the Cuban Revolution of 1933:
l cleared a little space in the crowd and made several pictures while he gasped his remaining breaths, at the same time asking what had happened. Jiminez had gone out for a stroll and had been followed by a number of youthful hecklers. To get rid of them, he whipped out his revolver and fired a few shots into the air. The kids scattered. As he fired again, a truckload of soldiers swung into the street. The truck stopped. A ragged soldier jumped out, backed Jiminez to a wall and shot him through the stomach. It blew him half apart.
People came running and, when they recognized the dying man as the much-hated Jiminez, went wild with joy. Someone called for a cheer for the soldier, who stood close by watching me work. A couple of wild-looking men picked up the hero and the clamorous mob went down the street to the Prado. I followed. The crowd pulled a statue off its pedestal and boosted the soldier in its place. He loved it, and struck statue-like poses while I banged away at him. Then someone yelled. ‘To the palace!‘ The soldiers jumped into their truck and led the mob. I ran along with them.”
After making a ﬂock of other shots with my Speed Graphic, I got back to the Havana Post, where INS had its office. Bill Hutchinson, bureau manager, had made arrangements with Miami to fly a special plane over to pick up my films. Hutch had a tip a mob was headed for the Post Building to burn it. I quickly went to the seaplane base, waited for the plane to arrive, give the pilot the exposed film, and told him to get out as fast as he could.”
Schulman’s photographic record of the revolution was considered one of the great visual reporting jobs in the newspaper business then. However, the turn of events would soon overshadow his work. Staring the next month, a loose coalition of radicals, students, intellectuals, and lower-rank soldiers tried to stage several coup attempts against the wobbly provisional government which survived until January 1934, when it was overthrown by an equally loose and unstable anti-government coalition of right-wingers supported by the United States. Leading them was a young sergeant named Fulgencio Batista.
Revolutions often come from unlikeliest places: from a shipyard in Gdansk; from a bus in Montgomery; from a prison cell on Robben Island. But even by these standards, it is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of Mohamed Bouazizi, the fruit vendor whose self-immolation set in motion the events that would culminate in the first successful revolution in the Arab World.
On December 17th 2010, a policewoman confiscated Mr. Bouazizi’s fruits, and then slapped him in the face; Bouazizi first complained at a local office, which was unhelpful, and then out of desperation, set himself on fire. By the time he died on Jan. 4, protests that started over Mr. Bouazizi’s treatment. They unfolded quickly, helped by shaky images taken by phones, posted on YouTube and shared on Facebook and Twitter. On January 14th, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country, ending his 23-year-old rule.
Although they might have been there always, cracks in other Arab autocracies become clearer to see in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution. Gaddafi quickly denounced the Tunisian revolution, although in the past, the erratic Libyan dictator had been always critical of Ben Ali’s pro-American regime. There were further immolations in Algeria, and protests over the ruling Hashemite dynasty in Jordan. And yesterday, it was the turn of Egypt, the Middle East’s largest and most influential Arab state.
At the time of writing, the situation in Egypt remains murky, but Hosni Mubarak looks vulnerable for the first time in his three-decade long authoritarian rule. Yesterday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, occupied the central Tahrir Square, and surrounded the parliament building. It was there that an amateur photographer took the above photograph, which many are already calling Egypt’s ‘Tank Man’ moment (there is also another video clip that has been thus termed). For this writer, the photo is interesting not just for the historical associations its invokes. Fittingly for an uprising started via Facebook, it comes from an anonymous user who posted it on Reddit and illustrates how social media has changed marketplace of ideas and political discourse.
In the wider Arab world, however, revolution will not be televised, merely because press freedom, as well as democracy, remains elusive. But the region’s geriatric despots are slowly discovering that internet is much more difficult to control.
2011 may or may not be another 1989, but for the time being, it is satisfying to entertain the comparisons with that pivotal year when Communism died in Eastern Europe. Like the Revolution in Hungary which opened that annus mirabilis, Tunisia had unleashed glimmers of hope, if not winds of change, for the Arab world. Comparisons with 1989 are still immature, but it is only January, and a year is a longtime in politics.