A few days ago, I posted an article on the possibility that North Korea and its Communist ally Cuba were planning some kind of threat to the US similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
A North Korean ship had been siezed by Panama officials under suspicion of drug trafficking. It turns out the ship was carting crates of what looked like missile parts. The crew’s behavior also reinforced the idea that something major was going on: the captain purportedly tried to commit suicide, the crew rioted, sabotaged the cargo crane, tried to outrun capture, etc. It was madness. It seemed serious.
But, like so much of the puzzling bravado coming from North Korea, it turns out that this contraband shipment was illegal only in the most technical sense.
The sugar shipment on its way to North Korea that seemed, on first blush, to be a decoy shipment to cover the more valuable missile parts, was in fact the price Cuba paid to North Korea to have them repair some 50s-era materiel, including some old Russian jets and a few missiles. The sugar was actually what North Korea wanted, not the spare parts, most of which were so outdated as to be little better than props.
What this shipment indicates really is how hard-up both countries are. Cuba can’t find anyone to sell it weapons, so it must repair the outdated weapons it acquired from the then Soviet Union at the outset of the Cold War. And North Korea doesn’t even have an exchangeable currency, so it does what it can to barter for food goods it desperately needs at home.
Although this exchange is technically a violation of U.N. sanctions against North Korea, it is very unlikely that anything will come of it. Reading the reports from U.S. and U.N. officials, you got the impression that they were trying hard to suppress laughter.
When you sweep away the chest-thumping, machismatic cults of personality, Communism is left looking very weak indeed. The only technically Communist country enjoying any level of financial stability, China, abandoned purely Marxist economic models decades ago.