The message from Dubai in late 2018 wasn’t unusual. It’s just part of the day for Alejandro Cao de Benós to open his email and find some intrepid capitalist who wants to do a little business in North Korea.
Recently, there was the one from a guy in Hawaii who wanted to open a McDonald’s in Pyongyang. That’s an easy no. Privately owned businesses are forbidden in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “No McDonald’s, no Kentucky Fried Chicken, no Burger King,” Cao de Benós says. Every so often it’s the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Spain, asking if it’s finally all right to send over a wave of white shirts carrying the Book of Mormon, even though he knows that’s a nonstarter. Only those religions that existed in Korea before the DPRK’s formation in 1948 are allowed to operate in the country. Sometimes a lead seems real enough that Cao de Benós can pass it up the ladder from his desk in Tarragona, on Spain’s sunny east coast, to the North Korean Embassy in Madrid—or even to his contacts in Pyongyang.