Alejandro Cao de Benós Interview – Part 1

alejandro-cao-de-benos-en-panmunjomb.jpgI know what you’re already thinking: Alejandro Cao de Benos, that fat Spanish guy who runs around North Korea in a Mao suit, gave you — a guy who advocates the violent overthrow of the North Korean regime — an interview? Don’t be silly.

Cao gave the interview to Italian freelance journalist and OFK reader Enzo Reale, who kindly offered to translate the full four-part interview into English and allow me to publish the whole thing here, which I’ve done with absolutely no edits, except to put Cao’s responses into italics for clarity. I can’t overstate my gratitude to Enzo for offering me this opportunity. No, I don’t suppose Cao is really an influential figure on the global or even the local stage, but Cao is the political equivalent of a Kardashian or a Paris Hilton — someone we can enjoy pitying, despising, and sometimes envying for their material privileges. Cao is a man about town in the world’s most isolated place, a man of material privilege in a land of famine, who leads a libertine lifestyle amid rigid conformity, a self-professed dissident in a land where all dissent is crushed. It just seems especially gratifying to loathe a man like Alejando Cao de Benos.

There are going to be four parts to this interview, and even from Part I, you can see that Enzo is a clever enough questioner to let Cao fisk himself far more effectively than I could ever do.

By the way, Enzo keeps two great English-Italian bilingual blogs — “Asiaedintorni,” and “1972,” which covers global affairs. If you read Italian, the original Cao interview is published there.

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His name is Alejandro Cao de Benós, he comes from a family of the Catalan aristocracy and is, today, the only Western official in the North Korean government. In his capacity as special representative of the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, the thirty-five years old native of Tarragona travels the world as an ambassador, receives foreign delegations in Pyongyang and takes charge of businesses with companies of the advanced capitalism. As president of the Korean Friendship Association (KFA), which he founded in 2000, he proudly exports Kim Jong-il’s word and introduces the Hermit Kingdom to politicians and onlookers.

While 1989 revolutions dismiss totalitarianism in Europe, Alejandro Cao de Benós starts looking for a model of society that embodies his idea of communism. He finds it in North Korean system and from that moment his life changes. He travels to Pyongyang (when nobody does) to introduce cultural projects to the representatives of the regime. Once overcome initial distrusts and suggestions to go back home, Cao gradually opens the doors of the institutions preceded by one of the historical sentences of the Dear Leader: “The word impossible doesn’t exist in Korean language”. When Mr. Cao proposes to implement the first official website of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong-il himself co-optes him into the power structure. Since then, Cao is a loyal soldier of the Juche ideology, a mixture of Asian communism and nationalistic pride, fruit of the intellectual formulation of the Eternal President, Kim Il-sung. He’s never been on a battlefield but, on the uniform he wears when in Pyongyang, he displays civilians and military honours, besides the inevitable badges of both Kim(s). I interviewed Mr. Cao during a brief stay in Spain.

Let’s start from the beginning. When and how did your passion for North Korea originate?

I was 15 years old. I was looking for a system that represented my ideals of egalitarian society. It was the time of the disappearance of the Soviet Union, everybody turned his eyes towards social democracy and no longer wanted to call himself “communist”. Principles were on sale. I studied the patterns of Vietnam, China and Cuba. But North Korea was taboo even for the most radical left. It was in Madrid that I got in touch for the first time with three North Korean families who represented the country in the World Tourism Organization. I obtained material about North Korea and began to cultivate my interest.

About your transition from ardent admirer to North Korean government’s official. How did you win the confidence of the regime?

It was a long journey that lasted ten years until – in 2002 – Pyongyang recognized me as a Special Delegate. My dream had always been working for a real socialist project. I felt totally identified with North Korea not only ideologically but also in spirit and culture. At first, I met with a climate of suspicion and my interlocutors had legitimate doubts about my real abilities. But in North Korea if you are able to pursue your proposals with success, then you eventually get a unanimous support. After many years of efforts in promoting educational and cultural projects, the turning point was the creation of the official website of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 2000, the first communication channel between Korea and the world. Once obtained the authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, Kim Jong-il himself gave his approval. By law, it’s impossible to represent the country if you weren’t born in North Korea. In my case, the authorities made an exception by acknowledging that I had shown a willingness to truly realize my dream, to work for them. I also want to point out that the North Korean government never paid me any money and that all the positions I hold are honorary.

What exactly are your duties in Pyongyang? What offices do you hold?

I’m performing all the functions of a worldwide ambassador, with diplomatic, cultural and commercial responsibilities. In general I take charge of
welcoming foreign delegations, resolving logistical problems when diplomats are in Pyongyang, fostering relationships and twinnings with political representatives interested in knowing North Korea’s reality. I’m also acting as spokesman for the government in front of international media. It’s a multiple assignment that didn’t exist before.

What is your level of participation in government business in DPRK? Do you attend official meetings? Are you consulted by top government officials on specific issues?

I’m working for the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, which depends both on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture. I regularly meet with the main representatives of the state, including the People’s Assembly President Kim Yong-nam, and several ministerial officials.

How many members and premises does Korean Friendship Association (KFA) have? How do you finance yourselves?

We are 9000 associates in 120 countries, but we’ve just 3 operating offices. Almost all the money comes from my pocket. Otherwise we are funding ourselves through the sales of our gadgets and the commissions on the contracts we negotiate for the North Korean government, but the latter is a relatively small source of income. For example, in Italy we’ve just signed an agreement with Indesit, for the supply of low cost appliances to our people. Like everyone, we too are looking for quality products and that’s why we prefer to work with European companies rather than with China.

What are KFA main goals?

To show the reality of our country and approach anyone interested in knowing it. Of course, it’s indispensable that people respect North Korea, don’t have hostile purposes and don’t insult us.

As you surely know, U.S. are enforcing sanctions against Bank Delta Asia, based in Macau, which is considered a laundering centre of funds originating from North Korean government’s illegal activities. What are KFA links with this financial entity?

The KFA doesn’t have any bank accounts abroad. As I’ve already said, all the money comes from small businesses or from my personal account, my work and my investments. Besides, the problem of Bank Delta Asia is now outdated. U.S. accusations have been proved baseless and when Washington shifted its stance from aggression to dialogue, current accounts were unblocked. It happened a few months ago.

How much time do you stay in North Korea in a year?

About seven months in North Korea and the rest of the time abroad for government missions.

Do you join North Korean diplomats in the meetings with foreign politicians?

Rarely. I work with North Korean ambassadors but I don’t directly take part in diplomatic meetings abroad.

Tell me about your last missions.

Last November I travelled to Canada to deal with a major pharmaceutical company about the supply of medicines to our country: active principles and other chemicals elements. We are also working on some projects related to renewable energy with Italian counterparts.

Do you manage some economic activity in North Korea?

No personal business at all.

Can you describe your typical day when you are in Pyongyang?

I get up at 7 a.m., I have breakfast and go to work, like everyone. After meeting with departmental directors to review the agenda of the day, usually I supervise foreign delegations visiting Pyongyang during their meetings with our ministers. North Korean leaders speak basic English and often I have to act as an intermediary. Kim Jong-il instead speaks fluent English, Russian and Chinese, in addition to Korean language.

Where do you live in Pyongyang?

I’m living in a small apartment near Koryo Hotel in downtown Pyongyang, a few steps from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I can go to work by walking, even if all government officials have access to the official car.

When you’re not working what do you do in Pyongyang?

I don’t have a lot of free time. We work from Monday to Sunday, usually ending up at 1 a.m. Sometimes the meetings continue at restaurant in the night.

You were rewarded with North Korean nationality. But what does it mean to be a North Korean citizen?

It means fighting for independence and for the preservation of our country’s culture. It’s an obligation to create something not just for personal gain but for the whole community.

Is it true that people in Pyongyang recognize you in the streets? What do they tell you?

It’s true. I’m popular for my participations in television programs and for the speeches I give on national channels or at the stadium. I also sing Korean songs for the people at public gatherings. They treat me with affection and admiration, like one of them, a Comrade like any other. In North Korea there are no social differences and a Party leader is the same as an ordinary citizen.

Do you correctly speak Korean?

No, I’m still learning it. With my colleagues we speak English and I sing the hymns by heart. My editorials for the Rodong Sinmun are written in English and then translated.

Let’s talk about customs. What are the moral characteristics of North Korean society?

First of all, respect for the family, the elderly, and generally for our neighbours. In the South this no longer exists because of Western influence and American cultural imperialism.

What are all those decorations on your uniform?

Civilian and military honours. The International Order for Cultural Activities, the Order of National Flag for my social involvement and a medal for work merits.

Did you fight in the North Korean army?

Of course not. But my military honour is a recognition given only to the elite military units. I got it in Panmunjom from an army colonel. From his heart to mine.

Have you ever received any gifts from Kim Jong-il?

Yes, he presented me with a porcelain tea-service.

Don’t you feel you are a privileged?

No, because my foreign national condition has always caused more difficulties than advantages to me. Nobody in history has achieved what I’ve achieved. I had everything against me. When everybody told me that it was an impossible dream, I replied with Kim Jong-il’s words that the term “impossible” doesn’t exist in Korean language. And I’ve proved it. Every North Korean citizen has access to government positions, but – in theory – no foreigners.

Every North Korean citizen? Are you sure? Who selects the ruling class in North Korea?

The people, through elections held every four years, otherwise the system could not subsist.

But, for example, if I work in a shoe factory and I want to join the Party and begin a political career, what should I do?

You should talk to your Comrades in your work unit during the rest, explaining your intentions and asking for their support. They will propose your candidature to the Supreme People’s Assembly and will vote you. You can run for a seat in one of the three existing parties.

Three?

Sure, there is not only the Workers’ Party in North Korean political system. But things are not like in the West: there are no opposition parties, no struggling for power, all the political forces are complementary in the legislative process.

How many members does the Workers’ Party have?

About six million. But any person can attend the Party meetings, even without being registered.

There’s a story going around about you. They say that some years ago you threatened Andrew Morse, a reporter from ABC, because of a critical report on North Korea. And that you entered his hotel room to break his computer. How was it really?

American journalists are not allowed to Pyongyang without a special visa. I did him a favour, putting my own reputation at stake. I repeatedly warned him that he could not take photos of strategic targets such as military facilities or railway stations. From the start he began to behave in an unorthodox manner, disregarding my instructions. He had his own goals: collecting sensitive informations to sell to the FBI or the U.S. government. I had no choice but to act and seize the illegal material after discovering it.

Do you really believe that an American journalist could be willing to sell informations to his government?

Of course, also because this is the only way to travel to North Korea out of the restrictions applied to American tourists. For us, every tourist is a potential spy. Those who enter North Korea as tourists cannot see almost anything.

(End Part 1)

Enzo Reale

31 comments

  1. Gene Rayburn says:

    I apologize if you’ve seen this before, but in case anyone hasn’t, someone has taken the time to upload (and provide English subtitles for) an episode of a Spanish travel show where the host is guided through North Korea by none other than Benos himself. The content itself isn’t particularly illuminating — the tour consists of all the classic sites we’ve seen in other government-sponsored trips — but Benos’s presence does bring something different to the table.

    All three parts are available here:
    http://gallery.me.com/mcalcada#gallery

  2. slim says:

    Almost a waste of good bullet, but I hope this stupid parasite shares his fellow fat one’s Ceaucescu moment.

  3. a listener says:

    Well the last part is certainly true. They cannot see almost anything. The paranoia is palpable. To think that the U.S. government really needs pictures of railways and tunnels from reporters is asinine, especially when we can see anything we want from Space.

  4. a listener says:

    Unless they are afraid a reporter might share with the U.S. government the secrets of roasted sweet potato from a street corner vendor in Pyongyang.

  5. chris says:

    Was this interview given three years or so ago? I’m taking that from the Banco Delta Asia reference… still totally fascinating, but I’d like to have a date for his comments.

  6. I believe the interview was done last week.

  7. A Reader says:

    “The people who say, don’t know. The people who don’t know, say.”

    Judging by the length of this interview, it is fair to say that Alejandro is nearly irrelevant to the North Korean system. Otherwise he would not brag about himself so much.

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  9. Ernst says:

    This interview is already hilarious and I, for one, can’t wait for part 2, 3 & 4.

    In the meantime, if anyone wants to have a laugh, Cao has written a book !!

    Yes, that’s right, he has written a book and it can be all your for 30 imperialistic bucks.

    http://www.korea-dpr.com/forum/?p=184

    (this is absolutely no promotion by the way)

  10. Actually, Cao read this post and was apparently so offended by my remarks that he refused to participate in this thread.

    Gee, Alejandro, we sure hope you’ll reconsider!

    I’m going to post Part II in a few days.

  11. Dan Ó C says:

    For anyone who doesn’t know, this very special individual has a blog (mostly in Spanish) where we can keep up to date with his most enlightening thoughts.

    I would personally love to bump into Sr. Cao on his next visit to Barcelona. God forgive me.

  12. Holy crap! Was that Cao trying to fit through the narrowest alley in Italy? So who else spotted the butter smears on the walls?

    I haven’t decided whether the fresco of the Virgin Mary looking down on Kim Il Sung’s portrait is a triumph or a sacrilege. I guess we’ll see what the Bowibu boys think the next time he’s back in Pyongyang.

  13. Ernst says:

    One of my favourite scenes with Cao is still him shouting over the DMZ to South Korean Soldiers (!), ”Yankee’s Go Home ! Yankee’s go home !”…it is somewhere on Youtube.

    On a serious note, I do actually think Cao has some serious psychological issues, especially since he thinks he doesn’t.

  14. whitard says:

    I am sick of this guy. He always appears here, in Spain, in television everytime they talk about North Korea.

  15. andrea says:

    where are parts 3 and 4?

  16. Big Vic says:

    This guy is an absolute idiot, moron, and a disgrace to the human race! He should visit the prosperous South Korea where people are happy and FREE! I wonder if Alejandro has ever met U.S. defector Joe Dresnok?

  17. Barry Nolan says:

    Message for Big Vic.

    Alejandro is a socialist hero and should be revered as such. We in the west shouldn’t accept just the one side of views towards the North of Korea. What you spout above about the “Prosperous South Korea” is probably true however it is prosperous because it is a puppet of the US. It is funded fully and militarily by Washington and this itself is a disgrace and the total reason for SK/US provocation in the Yellow Sea in recent weeks.

    You are entitled to your opinion but please be aware that there are two sides to every story and Alejandro’s story of how he overcame the mistrust of the people to become a hero and a DPRK citizen is something to applaud and to hold in high regard.

  18. Craig says:

    There is no doubt that Cao suffers from profound psychological disturbance. And Barry Nolan, you’re as stupid a piece of shit as he is. No doubt you are a fellow useful idiot for one of the most repressive regimes ever known. If N. Korea is the paradise you seem to think it is, why dont you get your stupid ass to Pyongyang?

  19. paul johnson says:

    Hello Mr. Alejandro Cao de Benos, I appreciate what you do for the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Korea, and I must admit , it is nice to see someone who is is willing to stand up for a heavily criticized nation, only belittled because it is not a friend of the U S A. I have always wanted to visit the D P R K but I’ve never been able to get the information from anyone. I know about Mr. James Joseph Dresnock and how well he made a life for himself in the D P R K when America wouldn’t give him one and it inspired me to want to visit this unspoilt land. But I know everyone will think I’m just a capitalist spy or some uneducated fool who bamms up blogs for cheap thrills, but that is not my intention. I am a twenty-three year old in Scotland who cannot get a job despite having high-school qualifications yet your students can, and what an achievement I might add as that is so commendable, and I would like to know if an absolute nobody in a Western society and country like myself could ever gain the privilege of visiting the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (I have nothing else in my own country apart from this computer link my younger brothedr uses for his high-school homework). If you take this as a bamm-up I understand, as thousands of fools must do that sort of crap every day to insult a country just because America hates it. Over 300 of our British soldiers died to protect an island that regards itself as British (no propaganda- truthfully) against an argentine force that was supplied by America- a country that said it would support us- and instead betrayed us for weapons dollars. Don’t trust America- it cost us many dead aswell. Respect for the one man Alejandro Cao de Benos who stands up for the D P R Korea- no one else did, not even myself. I do hope I can visit the D P R K sometime before it’s too late, like when I’m too old. A Merry Christmas to you’s all, and a Happy New Year, within and outwith the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea!

  20. Paul says:

    It is an insult to the world to promote an oppressive regime where Army comes 1st then the people.
    Mr or Comrade Cao de Benós are you aware that around 3.5 million people died from starvation or hunger-related illnesses, with number of deaths peaking in 1997 in N-Korea?? This in a country of 22 million inhabitants??

    Are you aware what the phrase “Songun” means?
    Let me explain the word to you: Songun means “Military First” policy, which prioritizes the N-Korean People’s Army in the affairs of state and allocates national resources to the army first including food, it was reported that food aid meant for the people of N-Korea was diverted to the army.

    How can you promote such regime? Maybe now with the death of one of the most hated dictators N-Korea will have an internal power struggle and change their ways.

    Personally as a European I feel that you should surrender your Spanish passport and become a permanent citizen of the DPRK and become reliant on their (DPRK) economic system and not feed from 2 shores……….in short give up your Spanish citizenship and become a fulltime N-Korean.

  21. Paul says:

    And why have you created a website for N-Korea ending in .com?
    Why not .dprk like .nl (Holland) .US (USA), .JP (Japan)??? but .com????

  22. JCA says:

    Alejandro Cao de Benos, eres un matón del tres al cuarto, un bastardo. Espero que un día se te juzgue por lo que eres, un mentiroso manipulador cómplice de un régimen corrupto y asesino. Niñato de mierda, si hubieras vivido la represión franquista, de darías cuenta de lo que estás haciendo con tus jueguecitos de señorito lameculos de los secuaces de Kim Jong Il y toda su panda de psicópatas. Vergüenza te debería dar, pijo de mierda.

  23. Portoles1975 says:

    His porciness also opened a video blog in spanish talking about how Spanish media manipulate people.
    Non-Spanish speakers could also enjoy this subtitled interview (http://www.megaupload.com/?d=RE6TXDKW). Subs are no good but you’ll surely enjoy how he is humiliated by the interviewers.

  24. Cern says:

    Has he ever watched Team America?

  25. Anti-extremist says:

    How can you all claim to know so much about N. Korea when nobody even knew when their leader died and how old his successor was? It took over a day to figure out what had happened. I have never been to either of the Korea’s and I am against communism. The international community places sanctions against these communist countries and makes things worse for the people than they would normally be. There are more hungry and in jail in “democratic” countries such as the USA.

    If they wanted to overthrow their government they perhaps would have more of a chance if they werent so isolated from the rest of the world. Much the same as Cuba.

    PS I would rather live in a country that was run by disciplined soldiers than greedy bankers.

  26. The Porcine Majesty says:

    @Anti-extremist

    Are you serious? Sanctions have little effect on the well being of the average North Korean. The Kim regime’s flagrant disregard for the well being of North Korea’s citizens has a significant effect. Ask a North Korean defector like Kang Chol Hwan why the people are treated worse than animals in other countries.

    I’m pretty sure you’re new to the site so I’ll put it simply: it’s pretty hard to revolt when you’re trying to figure out where your next meal is going to come from. North Korea is NOT communist. Communism would imply that their is some equal distribution of resources to the people. There is NO distribution to people other than the elite.

    As for your comment about living under “disciplined soldiers”, I’m sure Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and both of the Kims would have loved having you under their boot.

  27. [...] human rights record is not exactly a formula that attracts believers. When you have folks like Alejandro de Cao Benos as one of your foremost spokespersons in the international community, you know you’re in deep [...]

  28. Dante Valdez says:

    The North Korean Government has just murdered 12 musicians including a fantastic violinist called Mun Kyong-jin

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Z-5y16vITw

  29. Glans says:

    The Wikipedia article on Mun Kyong-jin agrees that he was executed. But is it true? The article on Hyon Song-wol casts doubt on the story. Maybe the AP Pyongyang bureau’s intrepid reporters will get to the bottom of it.

  30. Anonymous coward says:

    AP’s resources are limited. Right now they are probably too busy using their unprecedented access to cover KJU giving on the spot guidance tour the country’s labour camps, interviewing child prisoners for any newsworthy stories they might have. After gathering more evidence of unspeakable atrocities, they will confront Pyongyang, its repatriating, fence-building enablers in the PRC and the latter’s enablers in the West about it.

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