Welcome to the Spanish bar where customers drink a toast to Kim Jong-un
Owner is the only Westerner to occupy a post in the North Korean regime, even if it is merely honorary
North Korea may be isolated in the international community but it now has a modest ally on the Spanish coast – the Pyongyang Cafe, a small bar founded to support Kim Jong-un’s strongman rule.
Located in the Mediterranean city of Tarragona where Roman ruins vie for attention, the establishment sports a huge North Korean flag behind the bar, where tea typical from the country and Asian beers are served.
Socialist propaganda posters brought all the way from Pyongyang adorn the walls of the bar, and in a corner stands a bookshelf full of works by leaders of the Kim dynasty that has ruled North Korea since 1948.
“North Korea is the world’s big unknown,” said Alejandro Cao de Benos, founder of the bar that opened mid-July and also president of the Korean Friendship Association, which has delegates in more than 30 countries and is officially recognised by Pyongyang.
While North Korean restaurants complete with traditional food and dancing have popped up across Asia, the 41-year-old said this is the only such Western establishment. A restaurant opened in Amsterdam in 2012, but closed several months later.
“We want to break with all the myths, manipulation. And as not many people can go to Korea, because it’s complicated and far, they can come to our cafe,” said Cao de Benos.
Appointed special delegate for international cultural relations by Pyongyang in 2002, Cao de Benos is the only Westerner to occupy a post in the North Korean regime, even if it is merely honorary.
A staunch communist, his interest in the country peaked after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and he came to know some North Korean families in Madrid. He started travelling to the country, and said his interest for North Korea eventually “turned into my passion”.
Cao de Benos regularly now appears in the media to defend a country long criticised for its human rights violations and nuclear tests.
In a 2014 report, the United Nations highlighted a long list of crimes committed in North Korea – extermination, slavery, torture, rape, forced abortions, political persecution, disappearances among others.
“It’s difficult to find a right that is not being violated,” said Angel Gonzalo, a spokesman for Amnesty International.
Cao de Benos denied this and said his association counts some 17,000 members and the bar has been welcoming around 35 people a day on average in its first opening days. He aspires to make it a cultural centre complete with talks on gastronomy and tradition, film screenings or lectures.