Photo: Noticias Barquisimeto retrieved 

Kim Yong-nam, president of the North Korean Supreme Popular Assembly (SPA) visited Caracas a couple weeks ago, as part of a Latin American tour that also took him to Cuba and to Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s swearing in as the new president of Mexico. The visit is the most solid evidence of the recent improvement between both countries’ relations. As the head of the SPA, he’s the second most powerful individual in the country, only behind Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

Yong-nam and Venezuelan chancellor, Jorge Arreaza, signed a memo where they compromised to “keep improving bilateral relations”. Yong-nam later reunited privately with Maduro at Miraflores and with Diosdado Cabello at the National Constituent Assembly. But the practical consequences of the visit remain dubious. No significant bilateral treaties were signed, besides intentionally vague political cooperation agreements and a document that exempts Venezuelan diplomats from requiring a visa to visit North Korea and vice versa. It’s hard to think about something North Korea can offer to Maduro that China or Russia can’t, other than counseling on how to survive widespread famine without losing power in the process, of course.

But consider the evolution of bilateral relations with the Asian outcast throughout the 20th century, and you’ll get a glimpse of the effort made to make this visit happen.

It’s hard to think about something North Korea can offer to Maduro, other than counseling on how to survive widespread famine without losing power in the process.

Venezuela and North Korea have kept diplomatic relations since 1974, when the Venezuelan government recognised it as a sovereign state, following the release of a Venezuelan prisoner by the Kim regime. On September 1967, Alí Lameda, a member of the Venezuelan Communist Party who was working in North Korea translating part of Kim Il Sung’s works to Spanish, was sent to the Sariwon Prison Camp, 65 km south of Pyongyang. Lameda was imprisoned after supposedly addressing Kim Il Sung in “an ironic manner” during a dinner hosted by the Supreme Leader to the translators. He wouldn’t be released until seven years later, in 1974, after Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu interceded before the North Korean government at Carlos Andrés Pérez’s request, and with the condition that Venezuela recognised North Korea’s sovereignty.

In contrast, diplomatic relations with South Korea started in 1965 and had traditionally been way stronger. The Korean Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) from the South Korean government has been active in Venezuela since 1970 and has helped Korean businesses such as Hyundai and Samsung establish in the country. But as the Venezuelan regime turned more authoritarian, it started finding more common areas with Pyongyang.

Back when Hugo Chávez was alive, he showed sympathy for the anachronistic dictatorship. In 2009, he said he wouldn’t condemn the North Korean nuclear project and two years later sent “his condolences to the North Korean people”, after Kim Jong-il died in 2011. But the real tightening began during Nicolás Maduro’s presidency. In October 2013, Jon Yong-jin, North Korean Ambassador to Cuba, visited Venezuela and met with chavista lawmakers Yul Jabour and Julio Chávez, who  had already expressed interest in developing the Juche doctrine in Venezuela. Yong-jin used the opportunity to express his admiration for Chávez and declared that dared the United States attack Venezuela, North Korea “wouldn’t hesitate to join the fight against the empire”. A few weeks later, he would be executed with his wife in Pyongyang on Kim Jong-un’s command.

The Venezuelan government seemed oblivious to this and in 2015 announced that North Korea would reopen its embassy in Caracas, which was closed in the 90s during the North Korean famine.

Back when Hugo Chávez was alive, he showed sympathy for the anachronistic dictatorship.

Earlier this year, the Fine Arts Museum of Caracas hosted an exposition of North Korean art, which was described by its organizers as a means to “consolidate the fraternity between both countries”. Later, this June, the Venezuelan Committee in Solidarity for the Reunification of Korea was created in the embassy, with participation of the Venezuelan Communist Party and several chavista grassroot groups. During the act, Ri Sung Gil, the North Korean ambassador, saidbthat “despite the great geographical distance between Venezuela and North Korea, both countries are united in the same fight.” Just a few weeks ago, a stand with translated works of Kim Il-Sung and his son, caught most of the visitors’ attention  in the Venezuelan International Book Fair, a highly partidized event funded by the Venezuelan government.

Kim Yong-nam’s visit isn’t but another step on this road. Actually, Venezuela seems to be little more than a gimmick in a tour revolving around López Obrador’s takeover. México is looking like a much more profitable bet for the extreme left, than old, ravaged Venezuela.

But to the eyes of Maduro’s almost universally-loathed regime, the visit is important.}

As Maduro increasingly isolates himself, his government is more than happy to welcome new friends, no matter if they execute dissidents.

On one side, it’s a sign of recognition by an ideological ally and the most enduring die-hard regime in the commisphere. As Maduro increasingly isolates himself, his government is more than happy to welcome new friends, no matter if they execute dissidents with anti-air artillery and flamethrowers. More importantly, North Korea represents what Maduro wants to turn Venezuela into: a massively poor country, where everybody depends on an almighty State built on the image of a dead leader.

As Cabello said himself: “The presence of Yong-nam is very important to achieve Venezuela’s transition to socialism.”

A transition already well underway and that would make Kim Il-Sung proud.

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  1. Juan, thanks for the background and context. Truly birds of a feather. It would seem Maduro’s recent visit to mother Russia has resulted in Moscow’s decision to park some bombers in Venezuela. Wonder what Christmas gifts China might send. Only certainty is it will not include any useful amounts of food or medicine.

    • The Russian bomber deployment was announced in September. Maduro.went to Russia because Putin refused to stop by BRV during visit to Argentina..

      The true extent of recent Russians in Caracas aside from Finance ministry and Rosneft guys is Russian factory reps checking out the missile batteries. They are having problems with the Russian mobile SAMs

      Did anyone notice Maduro returned from Russia aboard Boeing 787 VIP. There’s like 3 in existence. The return flight cost in excess of US $1million

  2. North Korean art: large, realistic paintings of fat chickens. Priceless.

    Great post as always. I didn’t know North Korea had such a long history of diplomacy-by-kidnapping.

  3. Ironic that a commie translator of the Kim dinasty would end up as their prisoner. Collaborators always seem astounded when the sharks from the “face-eating shark party” eat -their- faces.

    • For addressing Fearless Leader “Ironically”. Wonder if he felt as “commie” after 7 years in a Nork prison.

      And, Ceausescu to the rescue! (rhymes). Whatever happened to that guy?

  4. Certain people who became high-ranking apparatchiks in the Chavista regime expressed their love of North Korea well before El Finado was elected in 1998.Devil’s Excrement: A view into the brain of the “intellectuals” of XXIst. Century Socialism in Venezuela

    To those wondering from what cubbyhole of the retrograde telematic world Jorge Giordani, the current Minister of Finance came from, this is a paper circa 1994, maybe 1996 of which he was an author accompanied by Minister of Higher Education Hector Navarro and former Minister of Health Jesus Montilla if my memory serves me right.

    The paper is entitled something like ” Science and Technology an alternative proposal” and as you will see its interpretation of history speaks for itself.

    “But all of a sudden the USSR desintegrated and among the diverse causes of having copied the functional science of the West and not put it at the service of the economy and the basic needs of the population.(sic, what does this sentence say?) Eastern Europe abandoned the route to socialism imposed and now its new rulers tried to impose a market economy. The recent industrial and technological advance of Japan-based on the massive copying of advance technology, a competitive and technocratic education and the harsh treatment of the worker, which is the reason why it can not be a model of high quality of life, but has been imitated later by other Asian countries, presenting themselves today as another neoliberal development style. Socialism maintains itself, with great efforts, in China, where it could end with centuries of hunger and misery, in North Korea which, although isolated and solitary, has managed to have a solid economy (!!!), as well as in Latin America itself, in Cuba, with 30 years of an inhuman economic blockade , but whose achievements in health, education, science and culture are a spine that bothers the power of the North.”

    There you have it, this is the intellectual depth of analysis of the world situation by Giordani et al. in 1994. A post (any post!!!) in Quico’s, Daniel’s or my blog has more “intellectual” content that this pamphlet. Note that the North Korean famine began in 1995 and lasted until 1997, so much for the “solid” economy of that country. As for Chinese “socialism”. I think I don’t have to explain myself.

    This is what the “minds” of Chavismo that control the country’s economy today were thinking 15-16 years ago. Clearly their view of the world is as out of phase today, as it was at the time.

    Courtesy of the cut-and-paste brigade.

    Years ago, most likely after reading Miguel Octavio’s above article, I had located an online Spanish-language copy of that Giordani-Navarro-Montilla article on North Korea, but at present don’t know where I located it.

    Jorge Giordani was Planning Minister for all but two years from 1999-2014.
    Héctor Navarro: 5 veces ministro en 13 años. (5 times minister in 13 years)

    • (1): “Ciencia y Tecnología para Venezuela: Una propuesta alternativa”, Editora Apucv, Caracas, 1994, pp. 7 and 26, authored by Jorge Giordani, Juan de Jesús Montilla, Víctor Morles, Hector Navarro.

  5. I attended a National Security seminar last week hosted by the University of Texas LBJ School. Aside from the usual suspects (Russia and China) there was a great consensus on the need to update the Monroe Doctrine. Needless to say Venezuela was front and center in that conversation.

    • Kathy, more like “apply the Monroe Doctrine”. Venezuela’s Regime, in its desperate (and comical-e.g., N. Korea) attempts at survival, is beginning to overstep the boundaries of U.S. patience in the Hemisphere: jabbing its thumb in Trump’s eye by financing the Honduras’/ migrant caravans to the U.S. Mexican border; inviting a Chinese “hospital ship” to La Guaira for 2 weeks, discharging arms/similar; now conducting “joint military exercises (sic)” with Russia , but with the parking of 2 Russian nuclear-capable bombers, on Venezuelan soil; and the rumored invitation of 3 Iranian warships to Venezuelan ports–as the saying goes, you don’t spit up, if you don’t want to be splattered….

      • All other factors aside, a problem is the numbers. The cost for the U.S. and allies. An invasion is a cost-spiralling scenario that could easily get out of control. There’s already the reconstruction cost of $100B minimum.

        An invasion puts you in the hundreds of billions. Not gonna happen. Compound this with other issues and the military option becomes non option

        There are other tools.

    • @Kathy: The Monroe Doctrine is alive and well. While you might see some ships from Russia and China puttering around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, you won’t see military bases. And it is in serious doubt that the Iranian navy can make it 500 nautical miles out of port without having to turn around.

      Uncle Sam has an even temper. But if he has to teach a lesson, he will. So far, nobody has dared him.

      And those Backfire’s sitting on the tarmac in Maiquetía. They come around every 5 years or so. It’s window dressing. They stay for less than a week, some dignitaries get their pictures taken by them, someone gets presented a fake “Bolivar’s Sword” (made in China) and they leave. You can bet your last dollar that if the Russians or Chinese started building a base on Paraguaná, you’d see Teddy’s “Big Stick Diplomacy”.

        • Meh. Who knows. I imagine Boris and Won Hung Lo have any number of “advisers” in Venezuela looking after their interests. From what I heard about the FANB from the FMC soldiers I have met, they aren’t much of a threat except for shaking down motorists. That is probably more bluster than fact, but I can attest that the Colombian military is ready to fight and they are BAD ASS.

          Boris might even send a coal belching WW2 vintage warship into Venezuelan waters to make a presence. (we do it to them and the Chinese all the time).

          Those Backfires get moved every couple of hours. The last thing Boris wants is a smoldering hunk of aluminum sitting on the tarmac from some faction that might lob about thirty 81mm mortars into them from a couple miles away.

      • You nailed it. And it shows how desperate Russia is to project power overseas, which they don’t have.

        But Trump should still order that these planes be destroyed. No loss of life. In the night.

        Don’t fuck around in our backyard, and considering these are nuclear capable…in a nuclear free South America…

        Long range no less which makes no sense at all…

        Most normal Latin Americans countries aren’t going to complain about turning two offensive nuclear aircraft into compost.

        • Its all about symbolism with Boris. Those nuclear capable Backfires are nothing more than the drunk old neighbor guy yelling at the neighborhood kids to “KEEP YOUR FRISBEES OFF MY LAWN!”

          I think the same two Backfires have been flying around on World Tour since 1991… they might be the only two left in flying condition. Not worth it to even give them a sideways glance. It’s actually pretty pathetic. They look snazzy, but that’s about it. A Stinger up the stovepipe and KABOOM.

          But again. Its all symbolism. We do it to them too. We taunt Boris constantly in the Black Sea.

  6. The Seminar was an all day session with senior members of the State Dept, DoD, and a panel of the ranking Senators from the Intelligence Committee. It was another Senator, Sasse, that spoke re: the Monroe Doctrine. Several panels, including Intelligence spoke to Monroe. El Guapo, you may be correct about enforcement in its current state. But that was not the impression I nor my table mates were left with.

    • I am curious at to what they think the state of affairs (re Monroe Doctrine) are in the Western hemisphere?

      Where are the Russian/Chinese/European military bases? Having influence is one thing. Having a presence is another thing entirely.

      I am US Army (Ret) officer and my impression of sitting Senators (failed lawyers) and various “thinkers” in
      the DoS (PolSci majors) is that there is a reason they are behind a desk. I doubt but a handful have stepped foot into fly-over country in the US, let alone any of the worlds “shitholes” which they espouse to know all about.

      I don’t doubt their intelligence nor the information they are receiving. I doubt their common sense. But, YMMV.

      • ElGuapo,

        I’m trying to send a link that includes syllabus and video of the event. Please bear with me. In a nutshell I felt there was strategic heft in the seminar, but I would very much welcome other opinions. It was a bi-partisan event (though the LBJ School, Clements Center, UT tends to run center right) and heavily attended. I live here, attend many of the lectures and events and find them excellent.

        In a nutshell (gross oversimplification):
        * Our National Security future problem (as in—war, superpower) in every conceivable situation is China. We have our heads in the sand and have failed to develop a coherent strategy to address this. Our strategy should be as as inviolate as our Cold War objectives.
        * We should be forceful in word and deed with Russia and quit trying to appease, appeal to reason, and only work with them where it is in our interest. The mantra again and again across party lines was “return to the Reagan model.”
        * Cyber Security, Cyber Security, Cyber Security.
        * Given the above we must update Monroe Doctrine. This is not so much about VZ as it is that Marduro’s selling out VZ future to above requires an ironclad (and yes, enforced) MD.

        If you google Clements you will find a tab for the Texas National Security Forum. I welcome you thoughts.

  7. Hook ‘em Horns Kathy: Thank you for your input. Always useful, and rare, to get insights that aren’t filtered by the traditional media. Look forward to more, SOONER than later.

    • Interesting tidbit: 2-3 high tech companies have given China their “Codes” which give them access to the technology in return for accessing Chinese markets. That is a nightmare for our Nat’l Security as those codes affect our DoD. I found one to be IBM but can’t locate others. They intelligence community is incensed and are struggling with how to put that genie back in the bottle.
      Hook ‘em, ASA! Young son was recent UT grad and got me “hooked” on the Clements/LBJ lectures. First class school, IMHO.

  8. Blackjacks, not Backfires. My mistake. Blackjacks more like the cancelled Valkyrie. The Backfire is more like an uglier F-111, though bigger. Curious that almost all Soviet/Russian aircraft look strikingly similar to US aircraft? Clearly the design bureaus haven’t had an original thought in their head since the Yak 9.

  9. Kim’s grandfather had ambitions for the Western Hemisphere seen with North Korean presence in Grenada.

    Young Kim is certainly following in grandfather’s footsteps. His grandfather would be proud of him IMO


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