Meet the Only Western Citizen to Work for the North Korean Regime
This weekend saw the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice. While you no doubt spent Saturday toasting the memory of the fatherland’s eternal victory over the US, it’s unlikely that you rejoiced with quite the same vigor as the DPRK’s biggest fan in the West.
Alejandro Cao de Benos—a 38-year-old Catalan aristocrat—is the head of the Korean Friendship Association (KFA), an organization that works with North Korea’s Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. He’s North Korea’s unofficial ambassador to the rest of the world, and the only Westerner to be awarded the position of special delegate in the country.
His organization represents nearly 13,000 people internationally who want to be friends with the DPRK, whether that be out of a genuine sense of solidarity, or because they thought it would be funny to sign up to his website when they were high. As head of North Korea’s international fan club, Alejandro was able to celebrate the big day by flying out to Pyongyang last week and meeting Kim Jong-un and a coterie of his top ministers at the Arirang Mass Games, later going on to watch a huge military parade at Kim Il-sung Square.
I caught up with Alejandro before he left for the festivities.
VICE: Hi, Alejandro. How did you end up as president of the Korean Friendship Association?
Alejandro Cao de Benos: I was 16 years old when I had my first North Korean delegation in Madrid. I founded the KFA, organized by the Justice Ministry of Spain, which then expanded internationally with conferences, cultural exchanges, and many visits to North Korea. Since my passion was always Korea, I got my official position as a special delegate from the Foreign Ministry in 2002.
Was it difficult to obtain the position as a non-Korean?
Yes, it was. It was the first and only time in history that a foreigner was appointed this responsibility. It took about ten years to earn their confidence. It’s a great honor since my main interest was to live and work in North Korea. My Korean name is Cho Son Il, which means ”Korea is one.” I’ve always believed in the Korean Revolution and General Kim Jong-il, who I met several times before his death, and even accepted gifts from.
You’re also in charge of the DPRK’s official website?
Yes. I proposed the first-ever DPRK website in 2000 to our minister because there was no information about it, and he agreed. I was given responsibility not just for North Korea’s publicity, but to act as a multi-ambassador to the country and to all countries that don’t have a North Korean delegate. So my work includes giving a lot of media interviews, since obviously most North Koreans abroad will not give interviews to foreign journalists. When something happens and they want an official DPRK point of view, they call me.