Belmont Club

Alimentary, My Dear Watson

As Occupy protesters in Oakland demand the closure of Burger King, the North Koreans are trying to close their border to China to prevent starving people from escaping there. The Strategy Page says that even members of the most trusted North Korean security agencies are being accused of taking bribes to smuggle people to China. They are being investigated by rival security agencies as Pyongyang attempts to stem the breakdown of its bureaucracy.

Senior officials of the secret police (NSA, National Security Agency) have been arrested for taking bribes to enable people to escape to China. This is unprecedented, as the NSA is considered the ultimate guardian of the North Korean government. …

The NSA arrests are part of a crackdown on the areas of greatest corruption. One of these is North Pyongan Province (in the northwest, along the Chinese border). In this area, officials are publicly confirming rumors of executions, usually by firing squad, of corrupt officials and managers of commercial enterprises. To speed things along, local government and police officials were kept out of the investigation and prosecutions.

The willingness of the North Korean NSA to take bribes despite the risk of summary suggests that economic hardship is getting the better of fear even in the upper reaches of the bureaucracy. A failing harvest has impelled the Army to hoard as much grain as they can — to ensure they have something to eat.

Over the last few months, police and government officials were ordered to take extraordinary efforts to insure the armed forces got a large share of the harvest. This was in anticipation of larger than usual losses to theft or “accidents.” This year’s harvest was poor in some parts of the country, and farmers were desperate to keep as much of it for themselves as possible.

A UN official, acknowledging the growing famine in North Korea said the food shortage “should not be politicized”, and some blamed the suspension of US food aid to the North for causing the problems.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters in Seoul that the core principle with respect to humanitarian aid was that it should not be politicized.

“You do not judge people on the basis of the political environment in which they are living,” she said after visiting the North last week to assess the situation.

Amos said the North has endured a “food gap” of about 1 million tonnes out of a total food requirement of 5.3 million tonnes for the past few years….

Data shows that much of the 1 million tonne food shortfall is the result of decisions by South Korea and the United States to halt food assistance to the North….

Officially, U.S. policy keeps food aid separate from strategic interests, but analysts say Washington is known to have used food aid to secure the North’s participation and increased cooperation in security negotiations.

A teenager in Oklahoma has started a hunger strike to raise awareness for the plight of starving children in North Korea. “She started, One Goat One Loaf, after getting back from South Korea and realizing how many children go hungry in North Korea and it’s hard to think about not eating for a day.” The group has raised $1,500.

All the money raised will go to a California based organization, that feeds about fifteen thousand children, six days a week, in North Korea. The group says the hardest part of today was people coming around with food.

But the Diplomat says that Pyongyang’s is having no apparent problem completing prestige projects, like finishing a giant hotel for its burgeoning tourist industry.

The pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel – the long-neglected and still tallest concrete building in the world, whose 330-metre spire disappears into overhanging rain clouds – is being clad with glass imported from China after being left to decay for 20 years. The temporary fence of the building site surrounding the structure is covered with Socialist Realism depictions of women workers with fists held high proclaiming progress toward completion.

That hotel will be badly needed to house tourists come to see North Korea’s one new growth industry: the guided tours showcasing starving children. Tim Large of Reuters went on one such tour and wondered, was it being staged for his benefit?

Could a malnourished eight-year-old really look like a three-year-old? Were the 28 orphans in the primary school clinic really so stunted by years of hunger that they had the bodies of toddlers, as the authorities claimed?

Or had they been assembled here for our benefit, infant imposters wheeled in to add poignancy to North Korea’s appeal for food aid?

Western nutrition experts who have worked in the country for years assured me that such extreme stunting was absolutely the norm.

“You see seven-year-olds who like they’re two,” said one. “You see 13 years-olds who look like they’re seven.”

In any other country, it never would have occurred to me to question the word of doctors as we visited room after room of children with gaunt faces, emaciated limbs and weeping skin infections. But this was North Korea, the most closed and secretive society on earth.

And although government authorities gave us unprecedented access to hospitals, schools, orphanages and collective farms, our journey into North Korea’s bread basket was tightly controlled. At times it felt stage-managed.

Was it paranoia to wonder if what we were seeing was sometimes stagecraft?

Come see for yourself and while you’re at it, pay to stay at the luxurious Ryugyong Hotel. One thing seems certain; if that that California foundation ever turns over the pennies of the Oklahoma teenagers, it will be used to feed military age fighters. The starving toddlers are needed to provide the exhibition to attract more and more disaster tourists.

The mind boggles at a regime willing to use food as a weapon. That of course refers to the evil United States, which is the cause of all this hardship. So Down with Burger King! Down with Capitalism! Viva Korea del Norte! Long Live the Socialist Worker’s Paradise!

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