Cuba admits it ships weaponry
HAVANA — Cuba's admission that it was secretly sending aging weapon systems to North Korea has turned the global spotlight on a little-known link in a secretive network of rusting freighters and charter jets that moves weapons to and from North Korea despite U.N. sanctions.
The revelation that Cuba was shipping the arms, purportedly to be repaired and returned, is certain to jeopardize slowly warming ties between Washington and Havana, although the extent of the damage remains uncertain. Experts said Cuba's participation in the clandestine arms network was a puzzling move that promised little military payoff for the risk of incurring U.N. penalties and imperiling detente with Washington.
The aging armaments, including radar system parts, missiles and even two jet fighters, were discovered Monday buried beneath thousands of tons of raw Cuban brown sugar piled onto a North Korean freighter that was seized by Panama as it headed for home through the Panama Canal.
North Korea is barred by the U.N. from buying or selling arms, missiles or components, but for years, U.N. and independent arms monitors have discovered North Korean weaponry headed to Iran, Syria and a host of nations in Africa and Asia. The U.N. says North Korea also has repeatedly tried to import banned arms. What's more, analysts say, it maintains a thriving sideline in repairing aging Warsaw Pact gear, often in exchange for badly needed commodities, such as Burmese rice.