been a bad Winter in North Korea, especially if you get sick. For the last few
months, the government has tried to crack down on the black market for medicine
by banning the sale of medical supplies. All such items can only be handled by
official government channels, and this restricts availability of drugs and
other medical goods. Only about ten percent of the population had decent
medical care, courtesy of the special medical network for senior government
officials and military personnel.
The medical supplies
crackdown is part of a larger effort to stem corruption among government
officials. The stealing and deal making has been going on for years, and is
increasingly manifesting itself in obvious ways. The corrupt officials are
building themselves new homes, are noticeably better dressed, and fed, and
sometimes driving a foreign car smuggled in from China. It's become an
embarrassment for the government, and a source of growing discontent among the
population. Things have reached the point where government officials are being
sent to jail or publicly executed.
The corruption is now
blamed on everything that goes wrong, and that's half right. Recent problems
with the food distribution program (most of the population depends on these
government controlled monthly supplies) are attributed to officials stealing
the food (and saying it was "spoiled" or "lost in transit")
and selling it on the open market (legally or not). One official was punished
for taking apart a factory and smuggling valuable components to China, where
the stuff was sold. Food from foreign aid shows up in Chinese markets.
The next generation is no
better, with about a quarter of college students involved in the black market.
One can get rich in North Korea, if you are willing to risk prison (usually a
labor camp) or execution. However, more people are being sent away for just
mouthing off against the government and the Communist Party. That's a new
The North Korean armed
forces continue to be starved of resources. The troops get food, and some
medicine, but not much else. Little fuel for tanks, ships and aircraft, so
there is not much training. No new equipment, and less maintenance on the
thirty year old stuff that is still in service.
The secret police, that
keep a lid on things, are becoming less trustworthy. It's the corruption again.
What happens when you can't trust the guards who guard the guards?