To me, being a “libertarian” means to be categorically opposed to any deprivations of liberty. When I apply this label to myself and when I use it to define the purpose of my actions, what I am essentially saying to the world is: “Can you see the misery of the people who have been totally deprived of all their individual freedoms? I want to put a stop to this misery and I want to make sure it never spreads anywhere else. I want everyone, to the fullest extent possible, to be free to choose their own way in life”.

Most of us will agree that totalitarian regimes are the ultimate antithesis of libertarianism. After all, nowhere are personal liberties more lacking than in the societies where the state is regarded as having absolute control over virtually every aspect of life.

Amongst all of the totalitarian countries that still persist in the modern age, none are as systematically cruel and oppressive than the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. A vast majority of people across all political persuasions concur on the barbarity of the North Korean regime, and many have spent decades predicting its fall. Even in China, which is arguably also a totalitarian country, and often said to be North Korea’s only ally, both public and official opinion seems to be that the Kim dynasty will inevitably meet its end in the near future.

Yet the cogs of the North Korean state apparatus continue to turn, and despite all these predictions of change, hundreds of thousands of people are still held in concentration camps, and countless others are suffering from malnutrition, slave labour and indoctrination enforced by restrictions on business, speech, and movement, amongst others. North Koreans continue to be isolated from the rest of the world, and what few glimpses they may catch of the outside (through smuggled DVDs and illicit radio equipment for example, but more on that later), they do so illegally, risking their lives and that of their relatives in order to get a diluted taste of freedom.

But I didn’t write this article to tell you about the monstrosities committed by this regime, there are innumerable reports all over the internet that depict the North Korean experience. Up to 300,000 North Koreans have defected since 1953, and their testimonies have been well recorded. What I came here to tell you is how the North Korean government has sustained itself for so long, and what we, as advocates of liberty, can do in order to fight it.

The DPRK’s lifeblood.

To begin with, one thing must be made absolutely clear: the North Korean government would never have lasted a week without outside help. The state-sponsored communist ideology of “Juche” (the Korean word for “self-reliance”) is a most ironic lie. The North Korean regime was founded, backed, and puppeteered by foreigners (the USSR), and today what little economy exists there depends on black markets stocked on foreign goods, exports to foreign countries (primarily China and South Korea), foreign aid, the sale of art or other memorabilia to foreigners, foreign tourism, and criminal activities in foreign countries. Contrary to the teachings of Juche, the Korean people (nor any other people for that matter) can not be sustainably self-sufficient and isolated from the world – attempts at making it so have naturally only furthered the state of stagnation and impoverishment in which they find themselves.

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“USA”? You are fatally mistaken, comrade, this bag of food clearly reads “Juche”. 

Not all the foreign involvement with the DPRK is necessarily aimed at helping out the regime; aid packages are supposedly earmarked for combating famine and are more often than not sent out as negotiation chips with the goal of freeing captured tourists or getting the regime to tone down its military rhetoric. That being said, the Kim dynasty has also had its fair share of supporters and business partners abroad, and I believe it is our duty, as libertarians, to expose them and the repercussions of their actions.

First of all, there are those who, not necessarily out of ideological support, decide to do business with the regime and thus contribute to the revenue stream necessary to uphold the current state of affairs; private business is technically illegal in North Korea, but there exists countless government bureaus that preside over their respective industries (such as, in the case of tourism, which is overseen by the Korea International Travel Company, the Korean International Sports Travel Company, and the Korean International Youth Travel Company) and they are allowed, to a certain extent, to contract with foreign private companies.

Many of these foreign companies, such as the tourism agency “Koryo Tours” (who is partnered with the KITC) and its competitors are already fairly public and do not need any more exposure, although their role in providing the regime with much-needed foreign currency could probably use some more emphasis, since their client base is always growing (while concentration camps are not getting any smaller). Others are slightly more private (but not necessarily always secretive) in their affairs with the regime – most of these are Chinese firms, but occasionally a western corporation such as DHL Express or British American Tobacco will try to slip by and expand to the hermit kingdom despite the many restrictions and high tax rates.

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Want to send Kim Jong Un a box of donuts? No problem, DHL has you covered!

Some even aid the regime in pursuing worldwide organised crime activities such as drug and human trafficking, arms trafficking and counterfeiting of anything from currency (North Korea is second only to the Federal Reserve in terms of USD printing) to pharmaceuticals and cigarettes. Of course, North Korea can not do all of this on its own and passes its products through local gangs who do not care that the meth, fake viagras or fake marlboros they’re moving might have been produced and packaged by the enslaved, malnourished and ailing children and elderly of North Korean political prison camps.

Similar apathy were in the minds of the government officials who have arranged the purchase of North Korean weapons and ammunition (mainly Arab and African countries, although small purchases have been made by Brazil and Mexico in 2007 and 2005 respectively), or yet in that of the Siberian officials who have ensured the operation of North Korean logging camps in their region for many years.

But the individuals responsible for making these deals with the North Korean regime have all done so under the veil of self-interest, without ever denying what really happens in North Korea. In other words, these were not personal declarations of loyalty to Kim Jong Un or his father before him.

That is why it is particularly shocking to discover that there exists a global network of individuals dedicated to supporting the North Korean regime and state ideology. The organisation I am talking about is known as the “Korean Friendship Association”; it was founded by a Spaniard with an ironically aristocratic name, Alejandro Cao de Benós de Les y Pérez, it has elected representatives in 28 countries including the U.S. and it additionally claims to have members in 120 countries. The KFA’s mission is to spread misinformation about North Korea, create an interest for Juche ideology amongst academic circles, and raise funds for the North Korean regime through the sale of trips to North Korea much like those offered by Koryo Tours as well as DPRK-related art, media, literature, and memorabilia.

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Alejandro Cao de Benós (second from the left) proudly displaying his numerous medals next to fellow comrades

The most prominent members of the KFA invest a lot of time and effort translating and manufacturing North Korean propaganda as well as speaking at universities and on local radio. On the outside, nothing sets these people apart; they have friends, families, jobs; some of them are even teachers, journalists, IT specialists… As far as we know, none of them apart from the founder have any direct contact with the regime, nor any involvement in its criminal activities.

Their activism faces virtually no opposition – whilst some limited media effort has at times been put towards discrediting Mr. Cao de Benós (who appears to be the only member of the organisation to receive a salary, and also the only one to allegedly have been granted DPRK citizenship and an apartment in Pyongyang), he has still been quite successful in sowing doubt over the reality of life under the North Korean communist dictatorship, especially amongst the left-wing academic and political circles that are quickly rising to power in Spain. The other members of his organisation get to take off their pins bearing the North Korean flag or Kim Il-Sung’s face and resume their daily lives at the end of each rally; none of them have faced any public repercussions whatsoever for their role in defending unspeakable atrocities.

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Just last month (January 2016), this syndicate building in Monzón (province of Huesca, Spain) was filled several times over capacity in order to accommodate a meeting between several  important communist organizations which featured Alejandro Cao de Benós as a key speaker.  Cao de Benós regularly gives lectures likes this one all over Spain. 

Freedom shall prevail

One area where any libertarian can help fight the North Korean regime is simply in countering the efforts of the KFA; discourage your friends and family from visiting North Korea – not only is there the possibility of being detained and used as an international bargaining chip (which is admittedly fairly unlikely, as long as you do what you’re told), but you won’t even get a feel of what North Korea is really like, since you’ll be assigned a tour guide whose job it is to make sure that you only see the purposely built tourist resorts… All that in exchange for thousands of dollars that will contribute towards the continued oppression of 25 million Koreans.

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What do you mean, I’m funding a dictatorship and its various human rights violations? Well at least they let me take some sexy selfies! 

Better yet, try and read some testimonies from defectors (I’ve added a short list of such accounts at the end of this article, but there are many more out there) and just be well informed about what truly goes on in that country – I’m not asking you to go around proselytizing or anything of the sort, but you never know when you might encounter somebody, online or in person, who has been led to believe that there is some sort of global imperialist conspiracy against North Korea. Thankfully, there isn’t a very significant number of KFA members (just like there aren’t that many Nazi-sympathisers or devout Stalinists left) in the world, but they exist, and the credibility of their claims needs to be struck down with well-researched, factual information.

However if this doesn’t feel like enough, and you become, as I have, impassioned with undoing some of the damage caused by one of the most coercive, statist and liberticidal agencies that have ever existed, perhaps the most significant thing you could do is to pay attention to and get involved with some of the organisations that are already on the front-line of the fight against the North Korean regime. One such organisation is “Liberty in North Korea” (LiNK): they play a crucial role in getting North Korean defectors out of countries where they risk being sent back and cruelly punished, ensuring that they are not overcome by the financial burden of settling in a new country after a whole life of being forbidden to accumulate any wealth, and helping them to become independent individuals by adapting them to the opportunities of freer markets where many of them will, for the first time in their lives, be paid regular wages, have a bank account, and become consumers in a world that contains an almost overwhelming amount of varied and competing goods.

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Each year, way over a 1000 North Korean defectors successfully make it to South Korea, and many more cross over to China in secret. An unknown but undoubtedly massive number do not survive this perilous stride or are caught and sent to prison camps. Even for those that make it, the future is extremely uncertain.

Indeed, without such efforts it would be virtually impossible for North Korean defectors to stand a chance outside their country, and the regime’s propaganda machine naturally makes good use of this. Why would any North Korean attempt to escape if they were guaranteed to either be repatriated or be unable to fend for themselves in an economic system they know nothing about or have been taught to fear and despise? It is fairly evident that the whole structure of the North Korean government would crumble under its own weight without the presence and collective consent of its oppressed population, and hence I believe that the strongest blow we can deal to the regime is to incentivse defection by making it as safe and sustainable as possible for those who make it out of the country, and then create a channel through which North Korean defectors can communicate their success stories back to their homeland.

Of course, regardless of what we do to help defectors, the regime’s propaganda ministry will carry on reporting on the alleged helplessness and solitude of North Koreans abroad, and this version will be believed by many. However, it most certainly doesn’t help if we allow defectors to actually find themselves in such conditions where they might be pressured to go back home, not to mention that more and more people in North Korea are finding ways to connect to the outside world through the smuggled radios, computers, USBs and DVDs (many of which are actually sent from South Korea by organisations such as LiNK, FFNK, NKIS or others), and the truth concerning the fate of defectors will inevitably be heard all across North Korea sooner or later.

I have myself recently started working with a new foundation in Spain, the ‘Foundation for the Advancement of Liberty’, which is undertaking several ambitious libertarian projects, including one which aims to support the work of organisations like LiNK by hiring North Korean defectors to speak in Spain, and thereby creating a grassroots movement against the KFA right on their home turf. In doing so, we hope to reduce North Korean state tourism revenue (Mr. Cao de Benós is an accredited tour guide in Pyongyang, and regularly travels there with groups of Spanish students, businessmen, or KFA sympathisers), increase international support for North Korean defectors, and expose the ties between the North Korean regime’s ideology and Spain’s neo-communist parties as part of a larger effort to prevent Spain from once again falling in the hands of a totalitarian regime.

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Pablo Iglesias (on the right, next to Alejandro Cao de Benós) is the leader of Podemos, a popular Spanish far-left party that is  currently negotiating terms with the Socialist Party to govern the country by coalition. This man would like nothing more than to become Spain’s very own Kim Jong Un.

We have also been brainstorming on different ideas dedicated to aiding escapees from North Korea and other dictatorships, such as offering microcredits aimed at providing them with education and the means to start their own business. After all, it takes a lot of initiative and risk-management skills to escape an authoritarian regime and successfully start a new life elsewhere, and these abilities can definitely be translated to the entrepreneurial world.

It is my most sincere conviction that private organisations and individuals will play a key role in bringing down North Korea’s regime, and looking at the bigger picture, communism itself – more so than any government ever will. Depending on their own ideological alignment and their relations with Pyongyang, governments all around the world have only appeased or provoked the North Korean regime, but none has ever significantly contributed to bringing it down. Sanctions, no matter how they are justified, never accomplish anything more than to hurt the residents of the sanctioned country even more, and the credibility of the UN’s statements and rulings is laughable. Therefore it is up to us, the real promoters of human rights and liberties, to stand up to those who would stop at nothing to destroy them. Who’s with me?

As promised, here are some links to North Korean defectors’ stories.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/01/tales-north-korea-defector-story-160107131430263.html

http://reason.com/blog/2015/11/15/yeonmi-parks-north-korean-defector-story (Yeonmi Park’s story is particularly touching, I highly recommend buying her book)

http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/blog/category/refugee-stories/

https://www.ted.com/talks/hyeonseo_lee_my_escape_from_north_korea?language=en

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/16/asia/north-korea-defector-revised/

http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk02800&num=4711 (This is just part 1 of 41, see the rest here)

Bonus link: here’s Cao de Benós singing in front of a live audience of 3000 North Koreans and North Korean national TV. The fool claims to be thought of as a hero all over North Korea, but I wonder what North Koreans actually think of him… Yet another reason to bring North Korean defectors on tour in Spain, this is a confrontation that just needs to happen.