TOKYO — Just weeks after three Americans detained in North Korea were released, a U.S. citizen has shown up in the repressive state, appearing on television to denounce his home country as a “mafia enterprise” and call American democracy “an illusion.”
Although details remain sketchy, it seems that the man, Arturo Pierre Martinez of El Paso, willingly went to North Korea. He says he is not being detained.
At a news conference Sunday morning in Pyongyang, Martinez vigorously criticized the United States for alleged human rights violations.
“The illegal war carried out against the nation of Iraq serves as a perfect example of how the U.S. government acts much like a mafia enterprise by criminally plundering entire nations of their resources, strategic reserves and economies instead of smaller-scale business and individuals, and does so without a code of ethics,” he said in a video released by the official Korean Central News Agency.
His remarks come at a politically opportune time for North Korea, which is assiduously trying to derail international efforts to indict its leaders for crimes against humanity and has sought to label the United States as the real human rights violator.
But his mother, Patricia Eugenia Martinez, told CNN that her 29-year-old son has bipolar disorder and previously tried to enter North Korea by swimming across a river, but was apprehended and sent back to the United States, where he was treated at a psychiatric hospital in California.
South Korean marines arrested an American in September after catching him trying to swim across the Han River border into North Korea. The man was said to be in his early 30s, but no further details emerged. It is not clear whether that person was Martinez.
Martinez’s mother told CNN that after his release from the psychiatric hospital, he took out a payday loan online and bought a plane ticket to China, where he apparently made it across that country’s Yalu River border and into North Korea.
North Korea said in a statement that Martinez entered the country last month, just two days after James R. Clapper Jr., the top U.S. intelligence official, went to Pyongyang to secure the release of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, two Americans who were being held by North Korea. Another American, Jeffrey Fowle, was released in October after six months in detention.
But Martinez, wearing a suit and tie, said he had not been detained. He said that he had admitted to committing a crime by illegally entering the country but that he was “extremely grateful for having been pardoned from the punishments given to violators of these laws and for the most generous reception I have received.”
He made his lengthy, prepared remarks at a news conference — which he said he had requested — at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang. The KCNA video showed him speaking to a large room of North Koreans seated at tables, some with notebooks and many wearing the kind of earpieces used for simultaneous interpretation. Portraits of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s “eternal president,” and his son Kim Jong Il were on the wall above Martinez.
Despite his insistence that he had not been detained, it was not clear whether Martinez, who said he wanted asylum in Venezuela, would be free to leave. Miller, who ripped up his tourist visa upon arrival at the Pyongyang airport in April and said he wanted asylum in North Korea, was sentenced to six years of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” before Clapper collected him last month.
Several of Martinez’s remarks were extreme. He said that democracy in the United States was “an illusion” and that the “billionaires in power are nothing short of sociopathic megalomaniacs on the path to absolute world domination.” He also talked about unidentified flying objects, CIA involvement in the cocaine trade, and “ultrasonic” devices that cause people to hear voices and experience bodily discomfort, CNN reported.