The Spanish Aristocrat Who Works For North Korea : Parallels A Spaniard born to privilege, Alejandro Cao de Benos is now a staunch defender of North Korea, where he lives half the year and works to promote its ideology.

The Spanish Aristocrat Who Works For North Korea

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Now, we're going to hear the strange story of a man who may be the only Westerner ever employed by the North Korean government. He's a 38-year-old IT consultant from Spain with a North Korean name that means soldier of General Kim Jong-Il. Lauren Frayer traveled to meet him in his hometown on Spain's Mediterranean coast.


LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The sun-soaked Spanish Riviera isn't where you'd expect to find a faithful foot soldier of North Korea. But that's exactly what this native son calls himself.

ALEJANDRO CAO DE BENOS: I consider myself as Spanish as Korean - 50-50. This is my country of birth, and North Korea is my country of adoption. I have a Korean name. My Korean name is Cho Son-Il, it's Korea is one. But also in the streets of Pyongyang and by the people I'm better known as Chang-go-nim Cho-sah. It means soldier of the General Kim Jong-Il.

FRAYER: He was born Alejandro Cao de Benos, a Spanish aristocrat, who, for the past 11 years, has worked as a special delegate for North Korea's Committee for Cultural Relations. He makes his money as an IT consultant, and pays his own way to North Korea, where he works six months a year as a minder for foreign visitors. The rest of the year he gives talks about North Korea at universities across Europe.


FRAYER: We arranged to meet on the veranda of a posh hotel overlooking the Mediterranean not far from Alejandro's home village. And I ask why anyone would leave all this for North Korea.

CAO DE BENOS: Society and the life is completely different. In North Korea, there is no stock market, there is no gambling, there is no prostitution and there are no drugs. Everybody lives a humble life but with dignity. You see the big difference. I have been working in Palo Alto in California, and what I have witnessed is, yes, there are some beautiful residence houses and people with great cars, but few people taking control of their properties and their companies. And they are the ones getting richer while majority of the people or workers are getting poorer.

FRAYER: It's a view Alejandro adopted as a teenager around the same time his family fortune was squandered. His dad went from a nobleman to a worker. And the family moved to southern Spain, a socialist stronghold at the time. Alejandro was just 15.

CAO DE BENOS: I started to join leftist organizations and political parties. So, while my friends normally were more interested into football and things like that, I was much more interested in philosophy and politics. And, obviously, first I got knowledge of Marxism and Leninism, but I heard that there was a country which had another kind of socialism, another kind of experiment based on their own culture and history. That was North Korea.

FRAYER: Alejandro's mom, Elvira Perez, describes what it was like raising a little North Korean communist during the Cold War.


ELVIRA PEREZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: People still don't understand it, Perez says, by telephone from her home in Granada. All our friends and neighbors were really surprised. I suppose that happens when someone does something different. People think it's strange. But we have always sought to support our two sons. And for Alejandro, this is a passion. A 2006 Dutch documentary, "Friends of Kim" - the title refers to the late Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il - shows Alejandro leading a nationalist march inside North Korea.



CAO DE BENOS: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is Alejandro Cao de Benos. He's the president of the Korean Friendship Association and the organizer of the march.

CAO DE BENOS: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He's a 29-year-old Spanish citizen but he also has a North Korean passport.

CAO DE BENOS: (Foreign language spoken)

ANDREW MORSE: Hello. Why are you marching?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Andrew Morse, an American journalist from ABC News is also covering the march.

FRAYER: Alejandro was the journalist's minder, and after a disagreement over the word famine, he seized Morse's video and threw him out of the country.

CAO DE BENOS: Everybody must know the DPRK. Everybody must be here and see the reality. And destroy the imperialist media that are bombing us every day with lies.

FRAYER: It's hard to reconcile the man in the documentary with the affable guy on the veranda in front of me. I asked Alejandro if he's really seeing the whole picture in North Korea.

CAO DE BENOS: I've been in Pyongyang without electricity 24 hours, without water 24 hours. I have been going with my comrades to pick up buckets of water that we will share among six or seven people. And I have seen the situation, I've seen the starvation and the terrible crisis.

FRAYER: But he blames that on natural disasters and Western sanctions, which keep communism from flourishing, he says.

CAO DE BENOS: Of course, this is a project. We are not living in a paradise in North Korea, but we want to create such social paradise. That's our goal. In the way we will have mistakes and we will correct them, and get better day by day.

FRAYER: Korean folk songs sustain his devotion, he says.

CAO DE BENOS: Song of comradeship, for example. (Singing in foreign language)

FRAYER: The lyrics are lost on everyone here on the hotel veranda, and Alejandro's voice gets carried off on the Mediterranean breeze. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer.


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