North Korean Embassy in Venezuela Signals Two Peas in a Pod
Español On Friday, Venezuela’s “anti-imperialist” foreign policy saw another significant development: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs authorized the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPKR), also known as North Korea, to reopen their embassy in Venezuela.
This marks the fifth diplomatic mission that the Korean regime has established in Latin America, after Mexico, Brazil, Peru, and Cuba. While the North Korean presence in the region has gone under the radar up until now, their admiration for Hugo Chávez’s 21st Century Socialism has catalyzed a deeper interest in the Chavista regime.
The authorization comes after a visit in October 2013, paid by North Korean Ambassador to Cuba Jon Yong Jin. This appearance in Venezuela was telling, given North Korea’s limited number of diplomatic missions; Yong Jin represents Kim Jong-un’s reign as a nonresident ambassador to numerous countries, including Venezuela.
During his visit, Yong Jin met with parliamentary representatives Yul Jabour and Julio Chávez, from the Communist Party and Venezuela’s Socialist United Party, respectively. Yong Jin also took the opportunity to express his support for President Nicolás Maduro, as he appeared in Caracas at the headquarters of the Permanent Commission of Foreign Policy, Sovereignty, and Integration.
Earlier that month, Maduro declared three US diplomats persona non grata, for allegedly conspiring to overthrow him, a decision that received clear support from Kim’s regime. Yong Jin congratulated the Venezuelan president for taking this action, and rejected “the interventionist policy being conducted by the US through its embassies.”
“It was a measure taken by an independent country, and we support it,” the North Korean representative stated.
But beyond this pat on the back, Yong Jin warned that if the US government dared to engage in a military attack on Venezuela, the North Korean regime would not think twice before joining the fight against the “empire.” They mean business, he claimed, and intend to defend the Bolivarian revolution.
Parliamentary Representative Yul Jabour, of Venezuela’s Communist Party, told the North Korean ambassador that Venezuela is granting “special importance” to the relationship between both countries. They seek to “strengthen ties between the people against the ‘dangers that loom’ for those who declare themselves anti-imperialist and defend their right to self-determination.”
Chavismo, Jabour confirmed, would take an additional step to get closer to Kim’s regime. The National Assembly was already “developing the legal context to deepen relations between the two countries.”
But beyond these diplomatic gestures, Yong Jin couldn’t contain his admiration for the Chavismo political project, and the “legacy of El Comandante Supremo Hugo Chávez.”
After this meeting, for the first time in Venezuela’s parliamentary history, both parties decided to create the Venezuela-North Korea Friendship Group.
Importing North Korea’s Ideology
In January, Yul Jabour and the head of the North Korea-Venezuela Friendship Group, Julio Chávez, emphasized the need for study of the Juche doctrine and its application in Venezuela’s territory. The Juche, also known as Kimism, is the official state ideology created by the late North Korean leader Kim Il-sung.
The Juche thesis states that, to consolidate the country’s political independence, people have to rally around the party and the supreme leader. According to Grace Lee, a researcher at Stanford University, this doctrine has helped to justify Kim’s consolidation of personal power.
When President Nicolás Maduro won the elections in April 2013, Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, returned the glowing overtures. He called Maduro’s victory “an expression of the deep trust and expectations on his shoulders,” and he congratulated the Venezuelan people’s “firm will to maintain the road towards socialism.”
Nonetheless, Chavismo hasn’t always shown a resolute commitment to North Korea. In 2006, Venezuela condemned North Korea’s nuclear-weapons tests, and called for the peaceful use of atomic power.
“We condemn all nuclear tests, because of the immense damage to the planet, to life on the planet,” Maduro said, when he was still foreign minister in Chávez’s administration.
Why the Exclusive Relationship?
Currently, there are 24 countries in the Americas and the Caribbean that maintain relations with North Korea, but only four of them have Embassies. Venezuela will be the fifth to join this exclusive list.
Venezuela recognized North Korea as a sovereign state in 1974, and this will be the second time the country has opened a diplomatic mission in Caracas. In the 1990s, due to North Korea’s deep financial crisis and severely reduced budget, the regime was forced to shut down 30 percent of its embassies, including the one they had in Venezuela.
Víctor Mijares, a visiting researcher at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies and assistant professor in international relations at Simón Bolívar University, spoke exclusively with the PanAm Post regarding Chavismo’s newest Asian ally.
“With the crisis that the Chavista leadership is going through, Venezuela’s deep economic crisis has also become evident. Therefore, the Bolivarian revolution’s foreign policy has gone from being a priority to a distraction.”
“Even though Maduro has started a slow turn in Venezuela’s foreign policy, the break-up with an anti-imperialist policy is not a viable scenario for Chavismo‘s stability in this post-Chávez era. This is why the Venezuelan regime presents, and will continue to present, resistance to former [US] hegemony,” Mijares explains.
Chavismo could adopt North Korea’s ideological and political features, such as the personality cult and its policy of isolationism, as lessons for the future. However, Mijares believes the truth is that North Korea can perform the role of the inter-cultural ally, even if only in a symbolic matter, and calm the radicals of the ruling party.