Sugar Missiles

sugar missilesimage
The Congress of the Journalists Union of Cuba (UPEC) has just been contradicted. Barely a few days after that meeting of official reporters, reality has put them to the test … and they failed. Yesterday, the news that a freighter flying under the North Korean flag, coming from Havana and found with missiles and other military equipment in its hold, jumped to the first page of much of the world’s press. In Panama, where the arms were detected, the president of the country himself sent out a report via Twitter about what happened. Knowing that in this day and age it’s almost impossible to censor — from the national public — an event of such scope, we awoke this morning to a brief note from the Ministry of Foreign Relations. In an authoritarian tone it explained that the “obsolete” — but functional — armaments were being sent to the Korean peninsula for repairs. It did not clarify, however, why it was necessary to hide them in a cargo of sugar.

At a time when newspapers are offering lessons that governments can’t get away with secrecy, the conformist role of the official Cuban press is, at the very least, painful. Meanwhile, in Spain several newspapers have challenged the governing party by publishing the declarations of its former treasurer; in the United States the Snowden case fills the headlines which demand explanations from the White House about the invasion of privacy of so many citizens. It is inconceivable that, this morning, Cuba’s Ministry of the Armed Forces and its colleagues in Foreign Relations are not being questioned by reporters calling them to account. Where are the journalists? Where are these professionals of the news and of words who should force governments to declare themselves, force politicians not to deceive us, force the military not to behave toward citizens as if we were children who can be constantly lied to?

Where are the resolutions of the UPEC Congress, with their calls to remove obstacles, abolish silence, and engage in an informative labor more tied to reality? A brief note, clearly plagued with falsehoods, is not sufficient to explain the act of sending — secretly — arms to a country that the United Nations itself has warned others not to support with the technology of war. They will not convince us of their innocence by appealing to the antiquity of the armaments; things that produce horror never entirely expire. But, as journalists, the most important lesson to come out of this “crisis of the sugar missiles” is that we cannot settle for institutions that explain themselves in brief press releases, that cannot be questioned. They have to speak, they have to explain… a lot.


122 thoughts on “Sugar Missiles

  1. Nick said on #19: “From the murky depths of the deluge of their bilious comentarios a clear picture begins to emerge….”



  3. There is a clear picture emerging as regards our Cuban-American contributors.
    Yes indeed.
    From the murky depths of the deluge of their bilious comentarios a clear picture begins to emerge….

  4. @Humberto

    I have a piece of advice for the trevelling Cubans.

    1. Travel light.

    2. You don’t need a checked baggage or suitcases. A small backpack and a credit card will do.

    3. Without baggage you can leave the airport half an hour earlier, and take a bus or metro rather then a taxi.

    4. If you want to bring gifts bring perfumes, vintage Cognac or jewellery.

    GUARANTEE: You will pay ZERO duties at customs.


    MIAMI HERALD: Daniel Shoer Roth: Taking gifts to Cuba? You’ll pay

    Raúl Castro’s government collects every year hundreds of millions of dollars in customs duties and tariffs paid by U.S. Cuban exiles when they travel to the island. Not to mention that cash remittances sent by friends and relatives abroad have become one of Cuba’s primary economic engine.

    One of the more surprising aspects for those who have never traveled to Cuba is the excess baggage fees paid at customs, including all carry-on baggage. Normally, excess baggage fees are collected by airlines, not airports. This means that Cuban exiles — who travel loaded like Santa Claus — must pay overweight baggage charges twice.

    Another hidden fee that is hard to understand is what Cuban authorities call “progressive tariffs applicable to custom duties.” These airport tariffs are applied based on the total value of the products and goods visitors bring to their families. It is an effort by Cuba to curtail the growing illegal business of “mules” transporting merchandise for commercial use from Miami to Havana.

    Also, electrical appliances and other durable goods, as well as their parts, are taxed independently and individually in CUCs, a dollar-like convertible currency unit. To top it all, the Cuban government automatically lessens the value of the U.S. dollar, charging a 12 percent exchange rate.

    Every product has an arbitrarily determined duty fee which is unknown to most travelers and often takes them by surprise. I obtained a copy of the Normas book to find the list of values. Here is a small sample:


  6. The exact same could be said of you, Mouse. You really need a new schtick.

  7. Help, you say:

    “Marabu, You do have a reading disability. I said the pictures were of patients tortured to death by their doctors and nurses. I never said police.

    I said if doctors there will starve and beat ordinary patients up every day, imagine what would do to you if you were a dissident.”

    And I said that these were criminals who commited the abuse on patients. A sadist individial can be fount in any country. Do not try to present the case as politically motovated.

    If the patients were “dissidents” they would be treated as Yoani or Farinas.

  8. Hank,

    Thanks for the article.

    Don’t know that Cuban author or those books you mentioned. Let me know if it’s good.

    I don’t really feel like posting here, I’d like to get away from the lunatics and forget about Cuba when I’m not there or sending them money, but a Cuban friend asked me to tell the world what’s happening, so just trying to honor his wishes.

    Each time I feel like stopping I remember the Nazi holocaust occurred because the whole world was silent.

    I’m not comparing two-bit tinfoil dictator Fidel to Hitler or other lesser dictators, just saying it is the silence and support of the outside world that let him get away with his crimes.

    You know the dissidents who released the Mazorra photos? If they tried to pull that off a few years earlier, they’d all be in jail or dead. How many thousands of patients have been starved and murdered in Cuban hospitals?

    Just one of Castro’s little “imperfections” he forgot to put in his medical brochures.

  9. The United Nations has a tough problem to solve. In 2006 it imposed an arms embargo against North Korea, and this case has a great probability to be in violation of the embargo. If the UN try to impose sanctions for the violation of the arms embargo, and Russia, a member of the UN Security Council, vote again the sanctions, how then it will enforce its own rules? The North Korea regime will laugh at the sanctions and does as it please.

  10. Help

    You are right.

    People who have escaped Cuba do know the real deal. That’s why they left and continue to leave in droves, any way they can.

    As you pointed out so brilliantly a while ago, rafts with people on them don’t float towards Cuba, they float away from Cuba. The Castro apologists either don’t understand that simple fact, and what it means, or they don’t want to understand it. It is an amazing thing to watch and read what the apologists say.

    I see that Raul gave a speech berating his enslaved countrymen because he is troubled by the social decline of the country. What does he expect? He murdered his way to power and maintained that power doing the same thing with his dim-wit older brother for half a century. And now he expects people to be polite and not swear? Give me a break.

    A friend of mine recommends that I read “Trilogia Sucia de la Habana” by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez. I intend to this summer. Have you read it?

    Here’s a fascinating and smart analysis of the current state of affairs in Cuba by Antonio Rodiles which was published today in World Affairs online:

    Change by Attrition: The Revolution Dies Hard
    Antonio Rodiles

    Five years ago, hopes were high among Cuba watchers when Raúl Castro officially succeeded Fidel. There was particularly intense speculation about who would be named the next first vice president of the Council of State. Bets focused on two candidates: Carlos Lage Dávila, a bureaucrat in his late fifties, and José Ramón Machado Ventura, an apparatchik in his late seventies who had been a captain in the guerrilla war that brought the revolution to power in 1958. Which of the two men was chosen, observers theorized, would suggest Raúl Castro’s orientation over the next five years and give a clue about whether Cuba’s course would be Raulista (reformist) or Fidelista (status quo).

    The answer came when Lage and his friend Felipe Pérez Roque were ousted along with other senior officials. Despite his substantial portfolio—he had initiated a series of reforms that gave standing to small private businesses and had negotiated a supply of subsidized oil from Venezuela—Lage was stigmatized for deviation from communist principles and especially for trying to consolidate a base of personal power. It later emerged that on several occasions he and Roque had mocked the Castros as dinosaurs of a prior age.

    In 2008, the international context was different from what it is today. Raúl Castro was attempting a modest rebranding of the Cuban government with the signing of the United Nations human rights covenants in New York. Hugo Chávez had become an inexhaustible source of resources and support for the disastrous economy Fidel had bequeathed to his brother. Barack Obama was emerging as the probable next president of the United States whose election would, according to Raúl’s calculations, increase the chances of ending, or at least relaxing, bilateral differences with the US without requiring that too much would have to be given up. The stakes were raised that same year when three hurricanes lashed the Cuban island, depressing its precarious economy even further.
    The “reforms” Raúl Castro announced after taking over from his brother Fidel are as comical as they are tragic—a mixed bag of dumb ideas, self-dealing, and more of the same old repression.

    Still, despite diplomatic encouragement by the new US administration, the Cuban government gave little evidence that it actually wanted a new dynamic. Clinging to a society totally controlled by State Security and a huge army of informers, the Raulistas instead sent a signal of their own in 2009 by arresting American Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the US Agency for International Development, for allegedly passing satellite phones and computers to members of Cuba’s Jewish community.

    As the status quo regained its critical mass, Cuba’s democratic opposition increased its activities. Guillermo Fariñas’s hunger strike, activism by the photogenic Ladies in White, and the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo after his own prolonged hunger strike all combined to create strong internal and external pressure on Raúl’s regime on the issue of political prisoners. A recognition that the situation must be dealt with led the government to enlist the intervention of the Catholic Church as liaison between the regime and the pro-democracy forces.

    All during these crises, the government maintained that its “reforms of the economic model,” supported by Venezuelan subsidies, would bring about neo-Castroism at an “adequate” pace, without creating social tensions or breaking continuity with the founding principles of the revolution.

    However, the much-publicized transformations of the economy never happened. Foreign investors have not queued up to invest in the Cuban future. First abject economic dependence on Venezuela (an echo of an earlier dependence on the USSR) and then the death of Hugo Chávez, “the brother from the Bolivarian country,” have upset all the nomenklatura’s rosy scenarios for transition without change.

    As it confronts what is likely to be a bleak future without the support of Venezuela, which must now turn inward to deal with its own soaring inflation and the legitimacy crisis of Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, Cuba needs to look once again and more realistically to the US and to what it would take to get a relaxation of economic sanctions. The release of Alan Gross would be a sign of weakness, but it would at least remove one key obstacle in the way of dialogue.

    But the regime’s room for effective maneuvers—maneuvers that would give hope for recovery without causing a crisis of legitimacy for the Communists—has narrowed. As all the early expectations created by Raúl Castro fade to black, the government looks for steps it might take to allow Cubans to breathe a little more freely and lower their demands. Relaxing the controls of the iron-fisted travel and migration policy, in hopes of easing the growing shortages suffered by Cubans, is one of the “audacious” steps the regime has taken.

    It is also naming “new” figures to fill the senior government posts who are actually part of the ancien régime. One of these, Esteban Lazo, was named president of the National Assembly. Symbolizing everything about the system that is old and unworkable, he will take the reins of an assembly that has never had a contested vote, not even on the very trivial issues which that body is allowed to discuss. Lazo is part of a retaining wall to block any initiative that might arise or come to this governing body.

    Substituting Miguel Díaz-Canel for José Ramón Machado Ventura—as first vice president, and presumptive heir—is an attempt to provide a Potemkin succession. Díaz-Canel, younger, obedient, lacking in charisma, and without his own power base, will depend entirely on the consent of an entrenched military apparatus to keep his post. As in the case of Lazo, his appointment is another indication that the old dynamic has not been discarded but merely given a face-lift. Both men will improve the image of the ruling elite but in no way diminish its power or control.

    Given the likely governmental schizophrenia that lies ahead—trying to create a narrow opening to the US while also making sure that any change in the upper echelons of government is only cosmetic—the opposition inside Cuba could begin to play a more crucial role. The collaboration among different opposition groups is more cohesive than in the past. The emphasis in recent months has been woven into a campaign called “For Another Cuba,” which demands the ratification and implementation of the United Nations covenants on human rights as the first step in a transition to democracy.

    How the opposition plays its cards could influence the form the government’s Plan B ultimately takes when all else fails, as it certainly will. In the near term, however, it can be assumed that the government, looking ahead to the end of the Castros, will continue to assign key positions to its most reliable cadres, people who will guarantee that “neo-Castroism” is the only alternative. It will also try to create the illusion that the faces it presents to the world as its new government are not actually Castroistas in sheep’s clothing.

    This narrative of rejuvenation will, however, require an economy that can afford it. And that is the sticking point: How can a completely disjointed and broken economy be repaired without fundamental change? It is hard to see how such a rescue operation could take place without a huge injection of capital, an injection that today could come only from Cuba’s northern neighbor.

    The US embargo and the EU’s Common Position are key pieces in the political chess game now taking place behind closed doors in Havana. If the government manages to pull off the magic act of getting the embargo dropped and securing an infusion of resources without first installing the basic reforms that would in effect toss the old regime on the ash heap of history, it would be able to keep its repressive apparatus intact—and we could say goodbye to any dreams of democracy. When I hear several pro-democracy figures advocate an immediate and unconditional end to the US embargo, therefore, I wonder at their naïveté.

    If on the other hand the international democratic community signals to the totalitarians in Cuba that ratification and implementation of the fundamental rights set out in the UN covenants is the only path to solving the Cuban dilemma, and if it conditions any measure relaxing the economic sanctions on the fulfillment of those international agreements, it will not take long to see results.

    The Cuban government has not been and is not reckless, despite the provocative behavior it engaged in when it sheltered under the Soviet umbrella. The elite want to maintain power, but not a brief, après moi le déluge power that lasts only for their own lifetime, with family and close friends inheriting a wasteland.

    The vast majority of the opposition, for its part, continues to hold the line by promoting peaceful change that transitions to a true democracy with the full and absolute respect of individual liberties and that will stand as a moral and political measurement of whatever status quo the government settles on in a desperate attempt to maintain its power.

    One subtle sign that this change is on the way, even if there is not immediate economic reform or political liberalization, will be the disappearance of the metaphors of combat as Cuba’s lingua franca: “heroic territorial militias,” “socialism or death,” “impregnable bastions,” etc. These clichés represent the necrosis of Castroism; their disappearance will mean that the head has finally gotten the message that the body of Cuban communism is dead.

    Antonio G. Rodiles, a Ph.D. candidate in physics, is a Cuban activist and founder of Havana’s Estado de Sats project.

  11. Humberto,

    Interesting article, I am sure Cuba and a other countries have been trying to help North Korea develop nuclear weapons for years.

    One day one of these lunatics will succeed and set one off.

  12. Nick,

    I see you upgraded me from “John Wayne” to “helluva weird guy”.

    Must be your revolutionary love at work.

    Sorry to tell you, but you missed the point once again.

    I’ve always been a weirdo who dislikes fascist tyrants, starvation, torture, and all that normal stuff.

    When the “friends of Fidel” start thinking I’m normal, I will start getting very worried.


    MIAMI HERALD: North Korean ships visited Cuba five times since 2009 – by Juan Tamayo

    North Korean freighters made at least five visits to Cuba in the past four years, although other Pyongyang ships may well have sailed to the island under different flags or ownership documents, shipping monitors said Wednesday. At least one North Korean-owned vessel, the Woory Star 2, is currently registered in Panama, the monitors added. Another was sailing under a Belize flag when it foiled a U.S. Navy attempt to board and search it in 2011. “The trade numbers are fuzzy but clearly there’s been more contact between the two countries in recent years,” said Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch, which closely monitors the country’s politics.
    Cuba has said it was sending the “obsolete” weaponry, including MiG jets and anti-aircraft missiles, to Pyongyang to be refurbished and returned. It has said nothing about the U.N. arms embargo in effect against North Korea since 2006.

    But the Chong Chon Gang was only one of at least five North Korean ships that docked in Cuba since 2009, according to the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, which monitors international shipping reports.

    The freighter was in Cuba some time between June 1, when it crossed the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and July 10, when it approached Panama to re-cross the canal on its way home. Its location transponder was off throughout its stay in the Caribbean, so its ports of call in Cuba are unknown.

    The Po Thong Gang docked at Cuba’s sugar-exporting port of Puerto Padre in April 2012, said Matthew Godsey, of the Wisconsin Project, and had also docked in Havana and Santiago de Cuba during one visit in 2011.

    The Oun Chong Nyon Ho docked in Havana and Puerto Padre in May 2012 and the Mu Du Bong visited Havana in May 2009, Godsey added. Neither of those two ships nor the Po Thong Gang were searched as they left the Caribbean.

    Two other North Korea freighters, the Ryong Gun Bong and Ap Rok Gang also made recent crossings of the Panama Canal but were not known to have docked in Cuba, according to the Wisconsin Project. The Chong Chon Gang also transited the canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 2008 and docked at the Brazilian port of Santos in 2009 before heading to Ukraine and Turkey.


  14. Help,

    You are one helluva weird guy.

    I have to tell you that the only thing ‘oozing’ out of me is a chuckle each time I log on and read your increasingly bizarre and nonsensical remarks.

  15. Marabu,

    You do have a reading disability. I said the pictures were of patients tortured to death by their doctors and nurses. I never said police.

    I said if doctors there will starve and beat ordinary patients up every day, imagine what would do to you if you were a dissident.

    Nick, I’m glad you are amused by pictures of starvation in Cuba.

    For a guy like you, starving and beating old patients to death is not torture.

    Neither is tying a lady to a chair and then giving her electric shock, pulling her teeth out with pliers and carving her up with knives.

    Only the USA, which commits the terrible crime of handcuffing terrorists on their way to prison, should be criticized.

    I’d like to think you have no hatred in you.

    But the hate that oozes out of your posts tells us the exact opposite.

    As Che used to say while executing people without a trial and trying to start a nuclear war, “This is all just revolutionary love”

  16. Helpy is becoming a real weird case.

    Getting weirder with the passing of each day.

    Guy you gotta get a grip.

    Getting off on all this torture description is not a good sign.

    Not at all.

    By the way, just for your information Helpy, if you can manage to concentrate on something rational for a brief second, I do not have one single shred of hatred in me.

    Not towards yourself and certainly not towards your country, which I happen to actually quite like.

  17. I did some research, Help

    The pictures you refer to have nothing to do with any torture by cuban police. They are the evidence of criminal negligence which happened in a cuban hospital a few years ago.

    Now I have a question to you: is Barack Obama responsible for the atrocities made by american criminals?

    Let me anticipate your answer: “No, but the difference is that the we have free elecions in the US and Cuba has not”

    Then let me ask you a second question: would american criminals stop their atrocities if Mitt Romney would be elected president?

    The crime is everywhere and is apolitical.

  18. Marabu:

    Like your friend Nick, you have a reading disability.

    From the link I sent:

    “Many show marks that indicate that patients were beaten before they died”

    Mazorra was one of Castro’s favorite spots to send political prisoners to be tortured.

    The guys in the picture weren’t political prisoners, just old Cubans who were victims of doctors and nurses who starve and beat their patients.

    Can you imagine what they did to political prisoners?

    I have to go for the day.

    Please tell us that pictures of Auschwitz are fake too and crack a few more jokes.

  19. Thank you for the link, Help

    You must have made a mistake, because nobody was tortured there. Just a Third World hospital, there are thousands like this on our planet.

    Do you have something on snakes? Raul Castro must have a cage full of snkaes in his office where he throws the dissidents (I wonder why Yoani hasn’t reported it yet?)

  20. Marabu,

    You asked for more torture?

    Here’s some pictures:

    And these guys didn’t even do anything wrong, just patients of Castro’s fantastic public hospitals.

    Imagine what Castro would do to them if he didn’t like them.

Comments are closed.