While North Korea remains restricted to most foreigners, the reclusive Communist state has recently taken baby steps to open itself up to the outside world.
Granted, entry into the country by outsiders, whether it be media or Google’s (NASDAQ; GOOG) Eric Schmidt or former basketball star and unlikely sports ambassador Dennis Rodman, is heavily regulated, controlled and monitored by Pyongyang authorities.
But there is at least one foreigner, a Westerner no less, who sings the praises of the hermit kingdom.
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Alejandro Cao de Benos, a Spanish-born longtime advocate of the North Korean government, has the tough task of serving as Pyongyang's official public relations attaché and mouthpiece to the world.
While most foreign media reports coming out of North Korea highlight the pariah nation’s rampant poverty, hunger and extreme repression, Cao de Benos paints a rosier picture. He is the only Western member of the government and carries the title "special representative" of the Foreign Ministry.
Cao de Benos founded the Korean Friendship Association in 2000 in Spain. The group is a worldwide network that works hand-in-hand with the Committee For Cultural Relations With Foreign Countries, a government body, to promote the "Juche" (self-reliance) ideology put forward by Kim Il-sung, the founder of the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea."
According to the association’s website, its members come from 120 different countries and aim to “show the reality of the DPRK to the world, defend the independence and socialist construction of the DPRK, and work for the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula,” among other things.
With Cao de Benos’ help, North Korea hopes to gain a softer image internationally, ie., by promoting images of smiling children and amusement parks, instead of the stereotypically dreary and grim images of life in North Korea that have become the norm.
Cao de Benos spends much of his time touring various parts of the world, giving speeches to promote the idea that foreigners should be supportive of the North Korean government.
In an interview given to an Italian journalist named Enzo Reale in 2010, Cao de Benos said his fascination with North Korea began in his adolescence, as communism was collapsing around the world.
"I was 15 years old, I was looking for a system that represented my ideals of egalitarian society," he said. "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.' ... 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."
In another video appearance, he stated: “I’m often asked, why, as a Spaniard, I love Il-sung so much,” he said, as translated by KFAUSA. “And I reply, it’s because it reflects my faith.”
Cao de Benos voraciously read the writings of both Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994, and his son, Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011, furthering his commitment to their ideals.
“I’ve come to know him [Kim Jong-il] since I learned about the Juche ideal... He’s really a great thinker, and theoretician and philosopher ever known in the world. “