Cuba Covering for North Korea?

Posted: Jul 18, 2013 12:01 AM

North Korea-Panama-Cuba: Panamanian authorities, supposedly searching for drugs, stopped the North Korean-flagged merchant ship Chong Chon Gang on its way from Cuba to the Panama Canal. They found obsolete surface-to-air missile parts and radars from the Vietnam War era under the cargo of 10,000 tons of sugar. The Panamanians have seized the ship for carrying undeclared military cargo and taken the crew into custody.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry confirmed that it shipped the equipment to North Korea. It said the ship was carrying 240 tons of obsolete defensive weapons - two anti-aircraft missile complexes, nine missiles in parts and spares, two MiG 21-Bis fighter planes and 15 MiG engines.

The Cuban statement said they were all made in the mid-20th Century and were to be repaired and returned to Cuba. "The agreements subscribed by Cuba in this field are supported by the need to maintain our defensive capacity in order to preserve national sovereignty."

Comment: The US had to have been the source of the tip-off to search for "drugs."  The search was a set-up, but the open Cuban admission makes the cloak-and-dagger dimension look misguided. 

Ironically, this appears to be a case of reverse proliferation, at least at this stage of the transaction. North Korea has the mechanical and technical capabilities to repair and keep operational 50-year old weapons systems. Their war museums have functioning captured US equipment from the Korean War stored in the basement in mint condition. The Cuban statement appears calculated to make this a Cuban defense issue and not subject to UN oversight. Cuba can choose to send its equipment needing repair to any competent state, so the argument goes.

North Korea and Cuba have had a longstanding and somewhat mysterious relationship since the time of Kim Il-sung. Almost every North Korean Chief of the General Staff visits Cuba. Rumors of North Korean combat forces deployed on Cuba have punctuated reporting on the relationship for decades, but have proven unfounded.

North Korean leaders always cherished a hope that they might be able to use Cuba from which to retaliate against the US, or at least threaten retaliation. The Cubans are not known to have obliged, but they helped North Korea manipulate perceptions to that effect.

The West will argue that UN resolutions prohibit this activity, but reverse proliferation does not seem to have been considered when the resolutions were drafted.

Pakistan: The government announced it will hold an election for president on 6 August. The election commission said in a statement Tuesday that candidates can submit their nomination papers until 24 July.

Comment: Presidential elections are indirect by an electoral college composed of all the members of the four provincial parliaments and the members of the national parliament. The people do not elect the president because the government is parliamentary and the president is a ceremonial figurehead, now that Musharraf's presidential system has been scrapped and parliament restored.

The significance of the election is not related to national policy or strategy. Those are now the responsibility of the prime minister and his cabinet in cooperation with parliament. Outgoing President Zardari was strongly tempted to retain as much of Musharraf's power as he could, but was blocked by the members of parliament.

The significance of the election is that Zardari will no longer have immunity from prosecution for money laundering and other crimes. The Swiss criminal actions will resume and the Supreme Court of Pakistan will ensure Zardari is brought to justice.

Turkey: Antiterrorism police units in Istanbul on Tuesday raided dozens of residences, including several college dormitories, in a crackdown on those who participated in widespread antigovernment demonstrations in June. They detained at least 30 people, the semiofficial Anatolia news agency reported. The Istanbul Bar Association said the police, citing terrorism laws, issued a temporary order withholding legal assistance to the detainees and denying them access to their families.

Comment: The large popular demonstrations ended two weeks ago. The Erdogan government promised concessions, willingness to submit to legal determinations about development plans and consultation with local groups. The government never promised that it would not retaliate against community organizers. Now it has.

What is worth noting is how similar Erdogan's crackdown tactics are to Egyptian General Sisi's crackdowns, which matched Mursi's and Mubarak's tactics. Authoritarian leaders - left, center, right or military -- behave almost alike when the issue is the survival of their political order. They use few tools and less imagination in handling mass expressions of popular grievances.

For a time it appeared that Erdogan's deputy was taking action to avoid the trap of authority misperception. Erdogan returned from his trip to North Africa and reverted to his fundamental non-democratic, authoritarian form. College kids are going to jail and the rural village folk will be glad.

The Erdogan government is so afraid of an Egyptian-style popular uprising and military coup, that Readers may rely on it to methodically arrest community organizers and activists. This government will not permit any group to gather millions of signatures in anti-government petitions. Turkey is not the model of a tolerant, moderate Islamist government that some American strategists continue to push.

Egypt: Update. Updated reporting indicates that Monday's civil disorders in Cairo resulted in 7 demonstrators killed and 261 injured. Police arrested 400 people.

Comment: Clashes will continue as long as the Brotherhood chooses to demonstrate. The Brothers are not interpreting the ouster of Mursi as the result of his and their inability to lead and their ineptitude in governing. They were the agents of their own demise because Mursi and his cohorts ignored the economy.

Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, on Tuesday swore in a new 34-member cabinet dominated by liberals and technocrats. The Defense Minister and First Deputy Interim Prime Minister is General Sisi,. Some of the ministers served in previous cabinets, including under ousted president Mursi. The cabinet includes no Muslim Brotherhood members or extreme Islamists, but does contain three women ministers and Christians.

Comment: The Brotherhood immediately denounced the cabinet. Ironically, Mursi's cabinet and his other appointments were not representative of all important Egyptian political groups. The Brothers still fail to grasp that the economy and micro-economic welfare are the key drivers in political stability and legitimacy.

Egypt is at a level of development where results are more important than process. The new cabinet appears uniquely qualified to jump-start the economy and it deserves the same chance Mursi had..

End of NightWatch


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