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Korean Friendship Association
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|Opiates for the masses|
Thus far their main achievement appears to be the construction of a website — using the latest in 1990s web design techniques (though recently updating to a more modern web design style) trying to prove North Korea is a really great place to live (hint, it isn't).
They present a bizarre version of the world in which North Korea is a bastion of "peace, friendship, and independence," and the unfortunate victim of imperialistic conspiracies to prevent the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The line taken by the KFA is pretty much what one would expect to hear from any DPRK government agency.
The founder and current president of the KFA is a Spanish man named Alejandro Cao de Benós de Les y Pérez, who was born in 1974 to an aristocratic family and enjoys dressing in military uniforms and posing for pictures with North Koreans. (Ladies love a man in uniform, particularly when the alternative is a forced labour camp.)
Cao de Benós first became interested with the North Korean regime when he was a teenager (ie, during the late 80's-early 90's) and came to know some North Korean families in Madrid. Somehow, the brainwashed North Koreans managed to infect Cao with their homemade brand of crazy and the rest is history. Unlike most commie teens, this confused tankie never grew out of that phase. Cao is also kind of special (no, not that kind of "special") in that he's the only person in the organization to get paid a salary (Seems like something very capitalist don't you think) The president is also unique in being the first foreigner to work in an official capacity for the government of the DPRK, and is a holder of the much coveted "Friendship Medal" — awarded to him by Kim Jong Il. In a sign of fanboyishness, Cao has also given himself a Korean name, Hangul: 조선일, Hanja/Chinese characters: 朝鮮一, Revised Romanization used by South Korea: Jo Seon Il, McCune–Reischauer romanization used by North Korea: Cho Sŏn-il, Translation: "Joseon/Chosŏn/Korea [is] one. Cao himself spells his name as "Zo Sun Il". Despite what Cao claims, The KFA is NOT officially linked to the North Korean government and the KFA website (korea-dpr.com) is NOT the official North Korean government website.
On 14 June 2016, Cao was arrested by the Spanish "Guardia Civil" (Civil Guard, essentially armed military police) for arms trafficking (probably sending them to North Korea). He is now forbidden from leaving Spain for this offence (so he can't seek asylum in North Korea). In July 2016, Cao took his raging semi for North Korea even further and opened "Pyongyang Cafe", a North Korean themed bar in Tarragona, Spain.
The group seeks to "aid" the process of reunification, primarily by helping the world realise that the DPRK is actually a nice country and that Kim Jong-un is not so much a deranged despot — more a benevolent and wise leader. They organise trips to North Korea, for tourism and business reasons. The gallery on the site shows photos of their many trips to the dear leader's communist paradise — many of which would be quite funny if they were not glossing everything else about the regime. Although the militaristic elements of the regime are not ignored, there's certainly scant mention of the widespread starvation and oppression of most North Koreans.
The group also leads activities in Western countries to protest the "unfair" treatment of the DPRK. The images of these protests would suggest that the KFA has more banners and flags than actual members.
Surely this is a parody!?
Unfortunately, no. While flirting with Marxism during the college years is not unusual, actually hardening towards endorsing Communism is rare (and it's almost impossible to find no-bullshit supporters of Juche), the KFA appears to be made up of those who not only failed to snap out of said college romances, but who indeed never matured notably beyond high school.
The KFA has been referenced in press releases from the DPRK, so assuming that Kim Jong Il wasn't a master parodist, it must be concluded that group is for real. Whether the KFA is aware of the less pleasant side of North Korea is unclear, but certainly the standard practice in North Korea is to ensure that tourists are steered away from parts of the country that the dear leader does not wish them to see.
It's all a scam, designed to fleece travellers to North Korea (whether supporters, journalists, common folks who are simply curious, or others) with overpriced trips (the fees for them being paid for some time to Cao de Benós's personal bank account and later to a Chinese KFA bank account) which offer much less than what "normal" (read, real) travel agencies do, never mind someone who is supposed to have special connections with the North Korean government that would bring special perks for the "association" and its costumers.
Members and former members of KFA tell the story of an "untrustworthy, ill-tempered" Cao de Benós who "exploit[s] the closed and secretive nature of North Korea", while being the only person to receive a salary from the association and attracting disenchantment even inside the KFA. No one has ever seen a KFA balance sheet or financial account.
- Official Website of the Korean Friendship Association
- USA chapter of the Korea Friendship Association (KFAUSA)
- Citizen Smith, IMDB - Life sometimes imitates art.
- Pyongyang Cafe's official page
- Promotional web video for the Korean Friendship Association's package tours of North Korea
- Foundation of the Korean Friendship Association
- Their take on the reasons why reunification hasn't happened.
- Meet North Korea's European envoy, Alejandro Cao de Benos, The Week
- A North Korean-themed bar has opened in Spain, Metro UK
- "Prominent pro-North Korea figure denounces KFA President Alejandro Cao de Benos", NKNews
- "Capitalist credentials: N. Korea sympathizer group’s huge profit on access to country", NKNews
- The mighty KFA protest against Western imperialism!
- Meet the Western Members of the Kim Jong Il Fan Club, TIME
- What's It Like to Be a Tourist in North Korea?, Foreign Policy
- The Westerners Who Love North Korea, The Diplomat