The Cuban regime claims that the missile parts recently found hidden in crates of brown sugar on a North Korean ship belong to them. If we take the Cubans at their word, the missile and radar systems were shipped to North Korea for repairs. That is the Cuban version of events and they are sticking to it.
The world learned about the interdiction of the covert shipment from a tweet from the Panamanian President:
Panamá capturo barco de bandera Norcoreana proveniente de cuba con cargamento bélico no declarado pic.twitter.com/MdWGfbXvVJ
— Ricardo Martinelli (@rmartinelli) July 16, 2013
Made for Hollywood. Really.
According to numerous news accounts later in the day, when Panamanian authorities attempted to seize the vessel, the Chong Chon Gang, the ship’s captain reportedly had a heart attack and something equivalent to a “mutiny” broke out at port. A lot of drama for what Cuba now says is obsolete Soviet-era weaponry (240 metric tons of it secreted under 10 metric tons of Cuba’s finest sugar crop).
The Cuban regime is very capable at skirting details. Spin as hard as the like, the Cubans have some explaining to do. At a minimum, the shipment is a violation of various United Nations Security Council resolutions. It also raises some interesting questions about Cuba’s aging Cold War weapons stash.
Assume that the Cubans and North Koreans are lying. That is what rogue regimes do for a living. Maybe these weapons system, aged or not, were headed somewhere else?
Maybe the Cubans should allow UN North Korea weapons inspection teams in Cuba to take a look around. After all, Cuba possesses a small cadre of very capable nuclear engineers and scientists as well as nuclear technology from its failed nuclear program. It would also be a good idea to learn what other Cold War-era toys the Cubans have been storing for what they claim are defensive purposes.
The official response from Foggy Bottom was guarded, as expected. There were numerous Members of Congress that chimed in asking for more information. And, as usual, as reported at the Babalu blog, guffaws from regime apologists.
Cuba and missiles do not mix well. This is the same country that brought the world to the brink of nuclear confrontation during the Cold War. They could not be trusted then and could not be trusted now. It may be an old issue, but there are many unanswered questions about Cuba’s Cold War-era arsenal.
This recent incident raises more questions that Cuba is up to no good and warrants more than a verbal admonition from the U.S. government. For now it seems that folks in this town are taking the matter seriously; however, there is a penchant to downplay bad news from Latin America. Stay tuned. If the Senate Foreign Relations Committee fails to block the nomination, the U.S. will have Samantha Powers at the UN to deal with such matters. Not good.