How are North Korea-Venezuela relations? We’ve all undoubtedly had our eyes fixed on recent news. The United States has sought to exacerbate the crisis in Venezuela by recognizing the premier of its national assembly as the interim leader of the country, seeking to force the country’s President Maduro to resign, a demand which has been followed by threats of sanctions and military action. Debate is red hot and controversial over America’s real motives towards the country. However, on a quieter note only two months ago had the Premier of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong Nam, paid a visit to the South American nation and met with Maduro itself. Here, they pledged to upgrade existing cooperation and economic ties. Such a move is not really a surprise, especially given the common socialist identity between the two. Yet, surprisingly, it is a relationship that has only came to fruition in the last 20 years given the rise of Bolivarianism in the country. And, providing America don’t get their way, it is one which is likely to continue to grow.
Venezuela as we understand it today begins in 1999 with the election of Hugo Chavez as the country’s President. Chavez sought to implement a Bolivarian revolution in the country. Bolivarianism is a Latin American school of socialist thought, named after Simón Bolívar, a revolutionary 19th century Latin American leader whom sought to resist Spanish Imperial rule over the continent. Similar to North Korea’s Juche Ideology, it emphasizes independence and self-reliance. Taking power, Chavez sought to achieve his socialist revolution through the nationalization of oil industries and a redistribution of wealth to fund social services. (At this point in time, oil prices were still high and the perceived implosion of the country’s economic structure was not foreseen). Given this background, Hugo Chavez and his successors have also advocated anti-imperialism, continuing the trend of Bolivarian thought which seeks to liberate the continent and establish economic self-sufficiency. Although the days of Spanish rule are long over, Latin American revolutionaries now perceive the United States as the present imperial power in the region. There are plenty of reasons to believe why, not least given Washington’s long history of endorsing bloody coups, civil wars and installing right wing authoritarian client regimes, all of which had contributed to the poor economic state of the region.
This anti-imperialist outlook would lay the foundations for warm North Korea-Venezuela relations sharing with Venezuela a common adversary and a broader ideological heritage. Indeed, the DPRK have long been affiliated with Bolivarian movements in Latin America, having been a longstanding ally of Cuba and also offered support the Grenadian opposition during America’s invasion of the country. It isn’t new. Hugo Chavez expressed that he wished to visit Pyongyang in 2008 and meet Kim Jong Il, however this never materialized. Nevertheless, when the DPRK’s diplomatic offensive of 2018 began, in need of new allies, the socialist country quickly became a priority. The distinctiveness of Venezuela’s government offers Pyongyang a route out of isolation without imposing demands, as well as economic opportunities which western countries and sanctions prevent them having elsewhere. Thus, given that a high profile figure was sent in November to meet Maduro, Kim Yong Nam having an enormous role in leading the DPRK’s diplomacy abroad, North Korea really meant business.
Given this, it is inevitable that North Korea will object to what they see as Washington’s interference in the country. Like Russia, China, Iran and Syria, the DPRK are likely to see Maduro’s government as the legitimate one, although they have not yet made any comment at this point. As has also been pointed out, it gives them another host of reasons as to why they will continue to distrust the motivations of the United States, especially regarding denuclearisation. With the 2nd Kim-Trump looming later this month, however, and Pyongyang seeking to get on greater terms with the U.S, it remains unknown as to whether they will publicly do anything about it, even if privately opposed. Kim Jong Un of course, is always astute in his priorities and regardless of what happens, he will note carefully that given the huge distance between the two countries and the relatively poor economy of both, there is little he can do to support Maduro. A proclamation of recognition by the DPRK will not convince anyone else to change their mind, nor can it possibly counterbalance Washington. Thus, whilst growing ties are nice to have, with this high stakes meeting coming up and Trump’s temperamental responses to international affairs, Pyongyang may simply see getting involved as simply more trouble than it is worth. Ultimately, DPRK-Venezuela relations might hold more strength in symbolism, than in substance