Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Cuban connection

Cuban relations with North Korea

The Cuban connection
Dec 15th 2013, 6:15 by

THIS is not the best time to be a confidante of Jang Sung Taek, the
uncle of Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, who was executed in
Pyongyang this week. One man who is apparently already counting the cost
of close association with Mr Jang is the North Korean ambassador to Cuba.

Ambassador Jon Yong Jin is a veteran diplomat who boasted what were
considered, until very recently, impeccable credentials: he is married
to Mr Jang's elder sister. South Korean officials say he was ordered
back home on around December 6th. (Another diplomat to be recalled to
Pyongyang was North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia, a nephew of Mr
Jang's.) Mr Jon's appointment in February 2012, together with a
high-profile five-day visit in June 2013 to Havana by the head of the
North Korean army's general staff, General Kim Kyok Sik, had been seen
as a sign of closer alliance between two enduring communist powers.

Despite a broadly-shared ideology, Cuba and North Korea have had their
differences. President Kim Il Sung, a proponent of the non-aligned
movement, was apparently unimpressed by Fidel Castro's admiration of the
Soviet Union. Castro only visited Pyongyang once, in 1986. His decision
that no statues to living persons (ie, himself) would be put up in Cuba
appeared to be an attempt to distance Cuba's version of communism from
the personality cults of North Korea. In the 1980s Cuba did receive
(apparently for free) 100,000 AK47s from North Korea, but trade had been
minimal until recently.

Under Raul Castro (who formally took over the Cuban presidency in 2008),
military and commercial co-operation appears to have increased. The
nature of the relationship was dramatically exposed in July, when the
Panamanian authorities intercepted a North Korean ship carrying arms
from Cuba. The ship had plied the same route at least once before. Cuba
initially described the intercepted cargo as nothing more than aid in
the form of sugar. When weapons were discovered under the bags of sugar,
the authorities in Havana then attempted to dismiss the cache as
"obsolete" items that were en route to North Korea for repairs (the UN
prohibits all arms transfers to North Korea).

But a thorough inspection suggests that was not the case. The vessel was
carrying 25 shipping containers with military equipment inside. The
cargo included two Mig-21 jet fighters. The jet fuel inside their tanks,
along with maintenance logs, indicated that they had recently been
flown. Ammunition and 15 apparently new MiG engines were also
discovered. Panama's foreign minister, Fernando Nuñez Fabrega, says he
believes the shipment was "part of a major deal" between the two
countries. The United Nations is preparing a report on the episode.

Shortly after the ship's interception, General Kim Kyok Sik, the army
chief who had met Raul Castro in August, was dismissed (although some
reports suggest his appointment was always temporary). In its
unprecedented character assassination of Mr Jang before his summary
execution, North Korea said, among other things, that he "stretched his
tentacles" into areas where he should not have been interfering. Whether
the arms deal with Cuba was an example of that may never be known. But
it does seem likely that North Korea will need a new man in Havana.

Source: "Cuban relations with North Korea: The Cuban connection | The
Economist" -

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