The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) has denied its flagship 126-year-old brand is being sold in North Korea with its consent.
"Any products sold in the market have been purchased by unauthorized third parties and imported into the country from other markets where they were sold," the company said to the Korea Times in response to a video clip on YouTube showing a Pyongyang pizza restaurant selling Coca-Cola.
Distributing and selling products made by U.S.-based companies is illegal under the terms of U.S. sanctions.
"Analysts suggest that the apparent opening up of the North Korean market to a product such as Coca-Cola would have been unthinkable one year ago and has only happened because of the death in December of long-serving leader Kim Jong-il," said the UK Telegraph in a report on Friday.
The clip was posted to YouTube nearly two months before Kim's death.
It's not that Coca-Cola needs North Korea or Cuba; it claims to distribute 1.8 billion units of its beverage in over 200 countries, and to outer space in 1996.
Even in Iran, despite threats in 2010 by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to ban American products, Coke is widely available in grocery stores and restaurants. Coca-Cola also recently announced it was returning to Myanmar after bowing out 60 years ago, despite words of caution at the World Economic Forum in June from opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi about "reckless optimism" regarding her country's efforts to open up from decades of strong-armed military rule.
Coke as 'meta-symbol'
Coca-Cola has attained symbolic status that few other brands have.
"It may stand for commodities or capitalism, but equally imperialism or Americanization," writes cultural anthropologist Daniel Miller, author of "Stuff" and "Material Culture and Mass Consumption," who calls Coca-Cola a meta-symbol open to different interpretations. "Coca-cola is not merely material culture, it is a symbol that stands for a debate about the materiality of culture."
The soft drink has been at times and in different parts of the world a symbol of capitalism, of American cultural hegemony, of Neoliberalism, of crass consumerism, even of both anti-Semitism and of Zionism. In the '80s, a common nickname for the soft drink among Latin American leftists was "las aguas negras del capitalismo" (the sewage of capitalism, also a reference to the dark color of the drink).
After Coke entered the Israeli market in the late '60s, the Arab League called for a boycott that lasted over 20 years. Pepsi didn't enter the Israeli market until 1992, so it was never the target of an official state-level boycott. To this day Pepsi is more widely consumed in many parts of the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia. However, Coke is also widely available and consumed, as are many other symbols of American enterprise, such as iPads, Starbucks and McDonald's.
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