Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli tweeted the above photo with the following text yesterday, July 15, 2013 at 7:47 p.m.: “Panama captured North Korean-flagged ship from Cuba with undeclared military cargo.” This little bombshell dropped in the midst of a policy offensive to take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, normalize relations, and end economic sanctions against the dictatorship.
Boneheaded political calculations are a bipartisan affair. In October of 2008, the Bush Administration declared North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism in the hopes that it would “salvage a fragile nuclear deal” with the totalitarian regime. Until yesterday it appeared that the Obama Administration was bent on following this same path with Cuba. Time will tell if this is a wake up call for the White House.
Five years after taking Kim Jong Un’s regime off the list of terror sponsors, North Korea has tested nuclear weapons and is now threatening to attack the United States with its new nukes. On the other hand, Cuba has continued to protest its presence on the list and has lobbied to be taken off.
The lessons from the Bush Administration’s cozying up to North Korea should give any reasonable person second thoughts about pursuing a similar path with Cuba.
The question arises: Would the behavior of the totalitarian dictatorship in Cuba be better or worse towards the United States once taken off the list? This latest lesson, that Raul Castro’s government does not play by the rules and is apparently providing missile technology to North Korea, despite United Nations sanctions, should help answer the previous question.
The Cuban Foreign Ministry released an official statement that it was sending “240 tons of obsolete defensive weapons,” otherwise known as military equipment, to be repaired in North Korea and returned to Cuba. It included: “two anti-aircraft missile complexes Volga and Pechora, nine missiles in parts and spares, two Mig-21 Bis and fifteen motors for this type of airplane, all of it manufactured in the mid-twentieth century. . .”
Panama says that it might take a week to search the cargo ship and determine what is actually there.
It should be no surprise that the regimes in Cuba and North Korea have such a close working relationship. Both are led by dynastic family dictatorships that have no concern for human life but deep concerns about preserving absolute power.
The dictatorship in Cuba has a long track record of international terrorism that merits it remaining on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. However, in Washington, D.C., as we saw in the case of North Korea, “realism” often trumps the facts when pursuing a policy objective.
Like its North Korean counterpart, the Castro regime has made alliances with strange bedfellows in order to pursue policies that, if successfully pursued, would lead to mass killings. Fidel Castro, for example, lobbied the Soviet Union both in the early 1960s and again in the early 1980s to attack the United States with nuclear weapons. The fact that such a war would have meant the destruction of Cuba did not deter the dictator.
The most important question responsible policy makers should be asking is not “When will Cuba be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism?” but “When will North Korea be returned to the list of state sponsors of terrorism? Before or after they attack a US city with a nuclear weapon?”