After inspectors at the Panama Canal found Cuban weaponry on a North Korean boat, the Cuban government isn't even trying to hide the fact that the property belongs to them. Cuba's Foreign Ministry has announced that the "240 metric tons" of "defensive" weapons were merely being sent to North Korea "to be repaired" and Pyongyang was going to give them right back.
In its own way, that explanation makes perfect sense. The weapons in question are wildly outdated, having been manufactured in the mid-20th century. Both Cuba and North Korea have been under severe trade restrictions for years, forcing them to either buy aging equipment on the side, or keep it in service much longer than normal. Most of their weapons trading must be done with Russia or China, so their militaries have a lot of overlap in sources and equipment. Sending broken missiles halfway around the world for repair isn't very efficient, but if Cuba has a problem it can't fix itself, it doesn't have a lot of other options for help.
Then again, the two nations did try to hide the weapons under 10,000 pounds of sugar and the crew of 35 North Koreans on the boat violently resisted any inspections. And North Korea isn't supposed to be dealing with weapons at all. United Nations sanctions prevent them from importing or exporting any large weapons at all. It's not known if "repairing" them counts the same as shipping them, but that's also a pretty convenient cover for a illicit weapons trade.
The weapons that were found were two anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles, two MiG-21 fighter jets, and 15 jet motors. It will now be up to a U.N. investigation to rule if either nation has violated international laws.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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