Panamanian authorities detained the North Korean-flagged ship Chong Chon Gang because intelligence information indicated the ship might be carrying drugs. What they found instead was a bit more deadly.
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said Tuesday that "containers with sophisticated missiles" were found under containers of sugar on the ship. Chong Chon Gang was North Korean-bound from Cuba. U.S. officials said the intercepted cargo is a potential cause for concern if it indicates a developing bilateral arms trade between North Korea and Cuba.
Cuba's foreign ministry said late Tuesday that the vessel contained 240 metric tons of "obsolete defensive weapons," which sounds just a tad different from the sophisticated missiles President Martinelli described. The weapons included nine disassembled missiles, two MiG-21 Bis jet fighters, and two disassembled antiaircraft missile complexes, which are apparently supposed "to be repaired and returned to Cuba."
The case will likely be referred to the U.N., which strictly prohibits these types of unauthorized, undeclared weapons shipments.
The discovery could signify worsening relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which have recently been on the mend. Cuba remains on the U.S. State Sponsor of Terrorism list. (North Korea was removed from the list in 2008.) State Department talks with Cuban natives in Washington, D.C. have led some in the capital to speculate whether the Obama administration had been seeking to break the stalemate that has defined relations between the two countries since 1961.
"This certainly won't help our relationship with Cuba," Jay Cope, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies said. "Cuba says it doesn't do anything on terrorism. This raises the question of whether we can believe them."
Just what we need, a return to the Cold War Era.