The government of North Korea has been increasingly boasting of support from fellow socialists in Venezuela, where this weekend the North Korean ambassador gave a rousing speech calling for “continued struggle against imperialism.”
The alliance between the despotic governments of both nations sheds light on North Korea’s campaign to build alliances globally, in a world that almost universally condemns dictator Kim Jong-un as a serial human rights abuser.
According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Venezuela’s Guárico state held a ceremony on April 23 to honor Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather and the founder of communist Korea. “The Guárico Bolivar State Legislative Council and the Juan German Roscio Nieves District Council of Venezuela awarded orders of honor to PresidentKim Il Sung on the occasion of his birth anniversary,” the report reads, adding that an award in the name of late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez was also offered to Kim Il-sung.
While North Korea claims the event was themed “on paying the highest tribute to H.E. Kim Il Sung, eternal President of the DPRK, on the occasion of his birth anniversary,” Venezuelan outlets report that an event on the same day, in which North Korean Ambassador to Caracas Rim Sung Gil was present, was a special session of the local legislature to “announce bilateral support in agricultural production.” Venezuelan state media claim North Korea is looking to invest in Venezuela’s agricultural production.
Arisela Medina, rector at a local university, is quoted as saying in the event, “Thanks to the strategic alliances promoted by Commander Hugo Chávez, today Venezuela is not alone. Our Korean brothers lend us support to overcome … the economic war and sabotage by the unpatriotic opposition.”
Venezuela refers to its current lamentable economic situation as a “war,” blaming the United States for its 500 percent inflation rate and a crisis that has left most of the nation without food. As in North Korea, economic experts look to the chronic mismanagement under President Nicolás Maduro as a more apt explanation for the nation’s crisis.
North Korea is suffering even greater food shortages, thanks to inefficient agricultural production (fueled by forced labor) and international sanctions as a product of its continued threats to attack South Korea and the United States with nuclear weapons preemptively. Recently, North Korean media warned residents to eat roots and prepare for an “arduous march,” a reference to the famine of the 1990s in which thousands of North Koreans died of hunger.
Nonetheless, Ambassador Rim made clear that both nations, in his opinion, should continue the “struggle against imperialism.”
Embajador Norcoreano Rim Sung Gil “Nos encontramos en una Lucha continua en contra del imperialismo” pic.twitter.com/eVC1zCtm1G
— CLEBG (@Clebguarico) April 23, 2016
Hugo Chávez had expressed warmth toward the government of North Korea during his tenure, going so far as to refuse to condemn North Korea’s illegal nuclear program. “If I were to condemn North Korea, first I have to condemn the top atomic power in the world, the United States,” he said in a 2009 speech. It was under Maduro that North Korea opened its first embassy in Venezuela, however, last year.
North Korean outlets have increased their attempts to make their ties to Venezuela high-profile, noting even minor signs of North Korean influence in the nation. State newspaper Rodong Sinmun boasted last week that a Venezuelan publishing house published a work by Kim Jong-un, succinctly titled “Let Us Add Eternal Brilliance to Comrade Kim Jong Il’s Great Idea and Achievements of the Songun Revolution.”
The pivot to Latin America follows years of successful diplomacy with the nations of Africa, whose colonialist history makes them more open to listening to anti-Western sentiments. North Korea has developed close ties to Uganda, Angola, Nigeria, Guinea, and other African countries, cutting deals to train African soldiers in exchange for public support at the United Nations.