July 28, 2013, 6:28 p.m. ET
The Castro Brothers Get Caught in the Act
News of arms shipments to North Korea rudely interrupts the happy talk
about reforms in Cuba.
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY -
The news that Cuba was caught smuggling fuel and weaponry on a North
Korean freighter through the Panama Canal surprised many who have bought
the line that the Castro regime is reforming and eager to lose its
reputation for criminality.
They are like the fabled frog that agrees to carry the scorpion on his
back across the water. When the scorpion stings the frog midstream, the
amphibian is confounded because it is clear that both will drown. But
the scorpion explains that what he did was inevitable because "it's my
The same goes for the Castro brothers. They are simply incapable of
containing their beastliness.
A handout picture provided by Cubadebate on February 24, 2013 shows
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro (L), and his brother, Cuban
President Raul Castro (R), during a session of the Cuban National
Assembly, in Havana, Cuba.
To pretend otherwise is to deny that the Castros, who lobbied the
Soviets for nuclear war against the U.S. in 1962, are still dangerous.
Yet denial is in fashion in some newsrooms and in the cloakrooms on
Capitol Hill, which is why the weapons-smuggling story was so evanescent.
The scorpion nature of the Castros is hardly news to Cubans. They are
not permitted to use the Internet, to watch independent news broadcasts,
to earn dollars, to speak their minds, to send their children to private
school or to worship freely. Something as basic as milk for children is
hard to find.
Some Cubans who rebel languish for years in dungeons. Others are now
victims of a new method of repression that observers call "catch and
release." The Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs in Cuba reported last
week that "in the first six months of 2013 the Cuban government
political police made more than 1,000 arbitrary arrests for political
activity, the majority [of the arrests] violent and lasting on average
between 12 and 24 hours." The council counts more than 70 political
prisoners serving multiple-year sentences.
Increased repression has accompanied recent efforts to bring in more
foreign exchange by attracting American visitors through "educational"
and "cultural" excursions that are permitted by the U.S. under its
long-standing embargo. The movements of these visitors and their
interaction with Cubans must be tightly controlled by the dictatorship
to ensure that they don't see too much of the real Cuba. They are
supposed to go away singing the praises of the happy communist paradise,
and many do.
A dictatorship is apparently an exotic curiosity for well-to-do
Americans. They are being herded through selected parts of the country
in large numbers to view firsthand what deprivation can inspire.
This week the elite Phillips Exeter Academy announced that it would join
with Miss Porter's School "on a weeklong exploration of the fascinating
art and culture of Cuba." There was no mention of whether students in
these prep schools would be visiting the jails where
nonconformists—including artists, musicians and the black human-rights
advocate Sonia Garro—reside. Nor was it clear whether the children would
learn about the dual-currency regime in which the military government
pockets dollars from the visitors while it pays workers in almost
worthless bits of paper. Somehow I doubt it.
Now comes the news of the arms shipment aboard the Chong Chon Gang
headed for North Korea, a land of barbed-wire fences and starvation, a
regime so dangerous to world peace that even the dithering United
Nations Security Council, China included, agreed unanimously in March to
heightened sanctions against it.
The Cuban foreign ministry immediately claimed that the weaponry, found
hidden under 10 tons of sugar and undeclared, was obsolete and going
abroad for repair. But José Otero writes in the Panamanian daily La
Prensa that Panamanian officials found two MiG fighters and full tanks
of jet fuel, along with "a mid-air refueling plane, two vehicles for
towing radars, a rocket-launching platform, a radar antenna with
platform and many cables" in the ship's hold.
Experts say the story doesn't add up. Weapons repairs are normally made
by ordering parts and flying in technicians. What is more, since
everything was made in the Soviet Union, sending it to North Korea
doesn't make sense.
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe tweeted on July 18 that a
reliable source told him that part of the shipment was destined for
Ecuador. Colombian journalist Eduardo MacKenzie noted in an online
column last week that "seven other North Korean ships had made trips to
Cuba in the last four years with itineraries similar to the Chong Chon
Gang." A further mystery is what these ships may have brought to Cuba in
the first place.
All of this smells bad. Cuba wants to shake off its international pariah
status so that it can get World Bank and InterAmerican Development Bank
handouts and credit from U.S. banks, thereby avoiding economic and
political reform. Indoctrinating the girls at Miss Porter's School is
part of that effort. The arms-trafficking is, or should be, a wake-up call.
Write to O'Grady@wsj.com
A version of this article appeared July 29, 2013, on page A11 in the
U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Castro
Brothers Get Caught in the Act.
Source: "Mary O'Grady: The Castro Brothers Get Caught in the Act -