So This Is a Thing: Meet Alejandro Cao de Benós, North Korea’s PR Guy

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Alejandro Cao de Benós holding a commemorative pin, a symbol of his commitment to putting a band-aid on atrocious violations of human rights.

When the name North Korea is dropped, inevitably this invokes thoughts of ridiculous hacking threats, “mass games,” and unnerving military exercises. When it comes to preserving the communist country’s ironclad public image, truth truly is stranger than fiction. From 1990 to the present, Alejandro Cao de Benós has been the brains behind North Korea’s public relations initiatives. His official title is “Special Delegate of North Korea’s Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries,” and works in IT during his six-month off season. While on the job, he works closely with the higher-ups in the regime to convince the western world that nobody really starves under Kim Jon-un’s cuddly dictatorship. (Really, they don’t!)

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Nobody lives on the street or are unemployed. All North Korean citizens have their vital needs covered, which include also the Leisure and entertainment, it is also free to practice sports or learn foreign languages. – Alejandro Cao de Benós

Seeing through the messages of prosperity and an abundance of comfort isn’t difficult for the discerning human being. Amnesty International, known for their relentless fight for human rights around the world, talks about the millions of residents who “have experienced the worst hunger in a decade” with North Korea discontinuing all foreign food aid in 2009. Given the gravity of these blatant violations of human rights, I would have to conclude that our friend Alejandro is a psychotic mess. Perhaps his visits are sheltered, the people he meets cherry-picked, when he arrives at the capitol as are the visits of many westerners. Perhaps the same feverish cloaking of the true conditions faced by the people of this country are cloaked just the same for Alejandro.

There's nothing North Korea does better than training their people in the art of fake happiness.

There’s nothing North Korea does better than training their people in the art of fake happiness.

This is a client which transcends the idea of a “PR nightmare.” Airbnb’s shift to using a logo that resembled female genitalia seemed nightmarish enough to a public relations student like me. The very idea that there is someone working behind the scenes to make the North Korean regime more palatable to western tastes is excruciating to fathom, and is made even more unbelievable by the fact that their publicist is Spanish. As implied before, Alejandro spends half a year working within a country that is sharply contrasted with North Korea in terms of basic human dignity. It’s hard to understand how this man doesn’t see the atrocities of the country he has sworn to represent in the public arena.

A colonial prison in Phyongsong, which appears to still be in use.

A colonial prison in Phyongsong, which appears to still be in use.

This is a lesson in picking your clients wisely. There is no need to sacrifice your own ethical principles for a paycheck. It seems as though Alejandro’s ethical compass is broken or nonexistent. Perspective is key here, and anyone outside the borders of North Korea should have a clear understanding of what’s really going on inside this country. Mending North Korea’s image around the world begins with them admitting what they’ve done, and treating their citizens with basic decency. Putting a western face at the helm of beautifying North Korea’s image is disingenuous at best. As it stands now, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea seems content in their endless loop of denial, and the cycle seems far from being broken.

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