North Korea missiles: Are North Korea and Cuba boosting ties?

North Korea missiles mystery: A boat headed to the North was seized in Panama this week with Cuban missiles on board.

Arnulfo Franco/AP
The North Korean-flagged cargo ship Chong Chon Gang, yellow, sits docked at the Manzanillo International container terminal on the coast of Colon City, Panama, early Tuesday, July 16. Panama's president said the country has seized the ship, carrying what appeared to be ballistic missiles and other arms that had set sail from Cuba.

Cuba announced Wednesday that a ship seized in Panama was carrying "obsolete" Cuban missiles that were on their way for repair in North Korea, a sign that the two cold war era allies could be taking tangible steps toward boosting bilateral relations.

Officials in Panama reported that the ship, which was flying under a North Korean flag, was carrying 529,000 pounds of missile parts hidden among bags of brown sugar. The ship’s captain reportedly attempted suicide and the 35-member crew violently resisted Panamanian police as they boarded the ship in Colon City, Panama on Tuesday. Panamanian authorities detained the crew and have asked that United Nations investigators inspect the ship.

As two avowedly socialist regimes, North Korea and Cuba have a history of cooperation. Though Cuba is now making moves toward introducing market mechanisms to its economy and coming out of isolation somewhat, North Korea has made no such reforms. The North Korean leadership does appear, however, interested in further developing partnerships that can reduce its reliance on China. Analysts say increasing cooperation with Cuba could be part of the Kim Jong-un regime’s strategy of enhancing partnerships with other countries.

“Because of international sanctions, it’s hard for North Korea to develop new partnerships, so they’re more likely to boost ties with countries they’ve been friendly with in the past,” says Dongguk University professor Kim Yong-hyun.

Officials from the two countries expressed intentions to increase cooperation during a visit in late June by Kim Kyok-sik, a high-ranking North Korean military official. 

Cuba and North Korea established diplomatic ties in 1960, but Kookmin University professor Andrei Lankov told the BBC that economic exchange between them is “negligible.”

In May, retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro published a column in the Cuban Communist Party’s newspaper Granma that stated that North Korea and Cuba always have and always will be friends. After the December 2011 death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Cuba flew flags at half-staff and observed three official days of mourning.

The shipment of the missile parts violates UN Security Council resolution 1718, which was passed in 2006 after North Korea claimed to have conducted its first nuclear test. Among other measures meant to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, the resolution banned the import and export of all weapons, with the exception of small arms, by the North. According to the resolution, all UN member states, including Cuba, must not conduct any large weapons deals with North Korea. 

In February, the UN further tightened sanctions on North Korea in response to its third nuclear weapons test. Those sanctions also strengthened the authority of states to inspect North Korean cargo, in an effort to cut off routes of supply and funding to North Korea.

“This case could make it be a sign that North Korean ships will now be more closely inspected, which will make it harder for North Korea to get the things it needs for its weapons programs,” says Koo Bon-hak, a professor at Hallym University professor.

South Korean government officials are verifying the reports of the ship’s seizure and “closely watching” the situation, reported Yonhap News Agency.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to North Korea missiles: Are North Korea and Cuba boosting ties?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today