One could argue that my very first trip to Latin America ever was “revolutionary tourism.”
In which I visited a group called the Zapatistas in rural Mexico that has a history of fighting with the Mexican government and is known to be a bit on the political left.
Though my reasons for visiting them were entirely academic and not necessarily due to any political support.
For me, I do find the topic of grassroots movements (of both the left and right) to be an interesting topic in Latin America.
Even more interesting if said movements are picking up guns and starting fights.
Or even more so if they have international support from others around the world!
It’s always interesting to me to see the little alignments that exist between various groups of people around the world and their reasons for supporting other causes.
Similarly, through the years of looking into this movement, I have noticed various folks from around the world who support this movement for their own reasons.
When I took that trip to visit the Zapatistas as you can read here, I met various folks who were foreigners also that happened to be visiting the area in the same time.
There was one academic who wanted to interview me briefly as to why I was there.
There was some black American dude who basically saw a connection between his activism back home and the Zapatistas.
The connection that he saw being some similarity in “decolonization.”
Which, for him, basically meant supporting groups or engaging in activities that made non-white people stronger in whatever corner of the world said activity is happening.
I’m sure an academic would phrase that differently somehow but you get the idea.
Supporting projects run by non-white folks to “decolonize” themselves from the impact of European legacy in the Americas.
Stuff like that.
And there was one Canadian guy too that was particularly interesting.
Some white Canadian guy who had just finished a trip to Cuba before visiting the Zapatistas.
His reason for Cuba?
To give appreciation to “the Revolution” or something like that as he put it.
Of course, it’d be interesting to put Mr. Revolutionary Canadian in the same room of Cubans who had to escape Castro to not be put in jail.
Or those who lost family and friends drowning in the water when trying to escape.
Or perhaps all those innocents who were put in jail.
For a leftist like him, you have to wonder how much does he support gay rights?
Well, Castro wasn’t a fan of that as you can see here with all those gay folks put away behind bars.
Still, regardless of how misinformed said “revolutionary tourist” might be, they exist!
For the Zapatistas, you actually have a little mini revolutionary tourism business going on.
For example, as you can see here, you have an organization in the US called the Mexico Solidarity Network that literally has “study abroad” programs for folks who want to visit the Zapatistas or study the benefits of the Revolution in Cuba as you can read here.
Among all the other groups who bring folks to visit the Zapatistas.
For the Zapatistas anyway, this type of “revolutionary tourism” became so popular that it was coined “Zapatourism” as you can read here.
“Zapatourism (from Spanish, zapaturismo) is a touristic phenomenon in the Mexican state of Chiapas caused by the presence of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. International and national tourists visit the area attracted by the message, image or policy of the Zapatista movement which claims to provide autonomy, dignity and freedom of the local indigenous communities. The rebel communities and municipalities in the zone are the entrance to this anti-globalization movement, phenomenon which is also called "political tourism".
And there’s plenty of other content on “Zapatourism” such as this academic article here (among others) on the topic.
“This essay examines the conflation of various practices of tourism, such as eco-tourism and so-called "revolutionary tourism," surrounding the EZLN and the indigenous groups that they represent. Both eco-tourism and revolutionary tourism seek authentic versions of indigenous difference, yet they also carry the threat that such difference will fracture the myth of Mexican national unity. It is precisely this indigenous difference that both thrills and repels the tourist, and by extension, the Mexican state. While the Mexican state manipulates the idea of tourism in order to delegitimize neo-Zapatismo, the EZLN symbolically reclaims the power of political praxis by utilizing tourism as a rhetorical device to represent and analyze the construction of national and indigenous identity. I argue that the EZLN's mock tourist guides and travel narratives demonstrate the confluence and inversion of supposedly "non-modern" and "modern" temporalities, in which both the nation-state and indigenous groups alternately appropriate and reject official national discourse and stereotypically authentic indigenous identity. As such, tourism becomes a space not to access potential national unity, but rather to rewrite the terms of indigenous difference and national inclusion.”
And, for those curious, there’s plenty of great content out there that focuses on “Zapatourism” online or simply visits by foreigners to the Zapatista communities to support them.
For example, there’s a great book called “Zapatista Spring: Anatomy of a Rebel Water Project & the Lessons of International Solidarity” by Ramor Ryan on the subject of foreigners coming to Zapatista communities to work on some water project.
On top of that, you got various online sources about Zapatourism such as this article here.
in which the author, while being cynical of this “revolutionary tourism,” at least came out of his visit from the Zapatistas with a more positive view of his experience.
“I could understand for the first time in that visit what made the Zapatistas so compelling, so emotionally and intellectually powerful for their supporters across national, economic, cultural and social borders. It was a feeling more than anything else, the feeling of an alternative project – not frenzied, not reactionary, not hateful, not tentative and skeptical, but directed and organic and meaningful – in action. Women planted flowers beneath murals that said “otro mundo es posible.”
That article is definitely worth a read though so check it out.
At any rate, we have other examples out there of “revolutionary tourism” so let’s dive in a few more.
Revolutionary Tourism to Nicaragua
Did anyone know that Nicaragua had fair and free elections?
I sure didn’t!
But there’s plenty of aspired young people who want to “get away from the propaganda” and see how Nicaraguan elections are for themselves as you can see in this Tweet here.
In which they came to Nicaragua to see how successful the fair and free elections have been under Dictator Ortega.
The funny thing is that, while they claim to be “getting away from the propaganda,” they are being shown on a video run by Kawsachun News.
Which, from my understanding, is basically just propaganda from the leftist government of Bolivia.
Some interesting comments in that Twitter thread that I found interesting are:
“Happy to be a part of this @friendsatc delegation ” by a person named Julie.
What did someone say to that in response?
“Have Ortega give you some tours of the prisons and media outlets....disfruta!!”
Beyond that, here’s a few more funny and interesting comments.
“Cual proceso electoral ?- si ni los mismos nicaragüenses tenemos el derecho de regresar a nuestro país para “votar” - esos son los “acompañantes electorales” del régimen.
“So happy to see young people joining the movement to oppose US policies that are geared to hurting the people of Nicaragua!”
“If you have time head south of the border to Costa Rica to meet the hundreds of thousands of political exiles that had to flee the country to safe guard their lives from Ortega. Even there Ortega has sent his henchmen after them.”
Study the Revolution in Cuba!
Based on what I could tell briefly, it does seem like a lot of the “revolutionary tourism” to Cuba comes in the form of study abroad.
Which makes sense.
For us Americans, it can be a legal way to actually spend months in Cuba without pissing off the American government.
And, for young people in general, studying abroad makes sense as a way to commit to “revolutionary tourism” given that young folks tend not to have money but love going to college.
Where, in college, many do study abroad and there’s plenty of financial aid to help these young folks engage in these “revolutionary study abroad” programs.
Like the Cuban program mentioned previously from Mexico Solidarity Network.
In fact, here’s part of the description for what students can learn on that program:
“A social justice framework provides you with a set of paradigmatic questions that are familiar enough to generate energetic questioning, while the Cuban context moves you outside of the debate parameters and political/social discourses that generally mark your experiences in the US. Among the key social justice questions you will confront are:
Anti-capitalism: Cubans are building a socialist country and the ongoing experiment is fascinating. Unwilling to accept the old Soviet or the new Chinese models, the Cubans are doing it their way – Marxism with a salsa beat. You’ll investigate the good, the bad and the ugly – successful programs and failed experiments. This course is particularly appropriate for students oriented to anti-capitalist views who want to experience real life efforts to construct alternatives.
Social justice vs wealth production: The Cuban dream of an egalitarian society that includes subsidized food, free health care and education, free day care, and guaranteed jobs is confronting the reality of a neoliberal world that inevitably results in wealth differentiation. Is socialism possible with market mechanisms? Are current reforms re-introducing capitalism? Is wealth creation more important than equity? Is it possible to build a social consensus around labor norms that are not based solely on wage levels?”
At any rate, you can find other videos of study abroad programs to Cuba on Youtube.
Most of them seem to be basic study abroad programs without any “social justice” theme to them but not all of them anyhow.
But, as we know, not all forms of “revolutionary tourism” come in the form of study abroad.
Let’s look at a more interesting example.
The Revolutionary Tourists to Venezuela!
In researching this topic, we have to bring up Venezuela, don’t we?
After all, could there be any “revolutionary tourists” to a place considered so dangerous like Venezuela?
Well, from what I could tell, they have existed!
First, we have this funny example here of a tour of the “Bolivarian Revolution” for those curious.
“Due to popular demand, our Venezuela tour is back! After years of absence, it’s finally back on our travel calendar. During the tour, you will experience the incredible diversity that Venezuela has to offer to visitors.
Of course, a YPT-tour is not complete without the full socialist experience. So expect the Chavez mausoleum, socialist murals, the square where the anti-government protests took place and a walk through a socialist neighbourhood in Caracas.”
It also includes a tour of Angel Falls!
“OK, OK, Chavismo, very cool. Now when do we see the waterfalls?”
For those interested, it only costs 3,595 USD for a total of 10 days in 2022.
Then we have this New York Times Article in 2006 titled “Visitors Seek a Taste of Revolution in Venezuela” that you can see here.
“Evoking other cities transformed by revolutionary leaders like Managua, Nicaragua, in 1979, or Havana 20 years before that, Caracas is attracting students and celebrities, academics and activists, grandmothers and 1970’s-era hippies – a new generation of Sandalistas, as some call them.
Some, including many Americans, have come to stay. But others come for a new brand of revolutionary tourism organized by the government or by private groups.
Venezuela welcomes them all, but rolls out the red carpet for high-profile visitors like Mr. Belafonte, the 79-year old singer and activist.
In January, he led an American delegation that included Mr. Glover, Mr. West and Dolores Huerta, the farm workers’ advocate. They met with Mr. Chavez, toured a neighborhood and visited government-run programs promoted as a way to shift the country’s oil wealth to the poor.
“We respect you, admire you, and we are expressing our full solidarity with the Venezuelan people and your revolution,” Mr. Belafonte told Mr. Chavez during the president’s weekly television program. He called President Bush, a constant target of Mr. Chavez’s barbs, “the greatest terrorist in the world.” Then he shouted, “Viva la revolucion!”
For those curious, check out the full article here.
Anyway, let’s wrap this up.
I’m sure there’s plenty of other examples that could be brought up.
Would be interesting to see if any “revolutionary tourism” has ever happened in Bolivia or Ecuador under the previous leftist administration.
Perhaps Argentina at any point?
At any rate, I guess some could see all of this as some form of “international solidarity” as those engaging in this activity would describe it.
I agree it does look like “solidarity.”
Something I wrote more about here in regards to leftist alignments in Latin America on the grassroots level.
On the flip side, some would also argue that some of these examples, like the one in Nicaragua or Cuba, are supporting dicatorships that oppress people.
Technically, that is kinda true?
Because these activities do encourage and spread a rhtetoric that is more positive of such regimes.
But, on top of that, there is some financial support obviously.
Granted, the money involved isn’t directly going into the pockets of the Cuban regime or Ortega.
But, in theory, it supports them by bringing tourists to their countries who will spend money and help the economy.
Thus, in a way, it maybe supports them indirectly along those lines?
Anyway, that’s the argument some would make against this “revolutionary tourism” activity.
But you be the judge.
If you have any comments or relevant examples, drop them below in the comment section.
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Thanks for reading.