A lot of people were baffled -- although it's not clear why the befuddlement -- that Cuba's Castro brothers were caught red-handed smuggling fighter jets, radar and missile components, and other weaponry to Kim Jong-un and North Korea in violation of the U.N. Security Council's arms embargo.
It was no great surprise to those who've watched the defiant dictators of Cuba. We know the Castros don't think with their brains first. Instead they remain obsessed with flashing their cojones. What's baffling is that year after year they still get with away with it.
It can't be a surprise either that the world's remaining totalitarian states pursue their own survival, mutually assisting each other politically, economically and militarily. Apparently neither wants the dubious honor of becoming the world's sole remaining totalitarian state.
Throughout their long rule in Cuba, the Castro brothers have acted illegally and irresponsibly with brawn -- even when it's borrowed at the time from allies-of-convenience. It's a "machismo" thing that they enjoy practicing at home, as for example, their use of brute force against the Havana democracy advocates known worldwide as "The Ladies in White."
In 1962, Fidel Castro was lusting over the nuclear missiles of the Soviet Union. He provoked the "Cuban Missile Crisis" and then urged Nikita Khrushchev, then-Soviet premier, to push the button and launch a nuclear strike against the United States. The Castro objective was: Kill tens of millions of Americans. Khrushchev wrote about the incident in his memoirs concluding that Fidel Castro is crazy. Apparently Fidel and Raul didn't care that the United States would retaliate and obliterate the island of Cuba.
The Castros' power fantasies and fallacies don't seem to fade. In the 1980s, Fidel's ego took a beating and Cuba's economy foundered under the weight of his ill-considered military adventures in Africa, which became deeply unpopular in Cuba. To keep playing on the world stage, the Castros are always searching for "hard currency" and the Angola war was one way to extract it from the Soviet Union.
As Soviet cash dried up, the Castros turned to courting Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, opening Cuba's ports to the cartel for trans-shipping narcotics. To Fidel, who considers the United States his arch enemy, this too was an entirely sensible policy: If he couldn't nuke his capitalist American enemies, or run 'em out of Africa, he'd ship 'em drugs and Americans would poison themselves. What's to lose?
When the United States turned up the heat on drug smuggling, Fidel and his brother Raul, then-head of Cuba's armed forces, identified Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez as their scapegoat. Cubans in general held Ochoa's legendary courage in the African wars in high esteem. To the Castros that made him a potential rival. In quick order, Ochoa was accused of drug trafficking, given a televised Stalinist-style trial and executed.
Several months later, the United States invaded Panama and arrested its leader Manuel Noriega for selling "safe passage" through the Panama Canal to the Medellin Cartel. Noriega was hauled off to Miami, tried and convicted. Testimony and evidence gleaned in that trial led U.S. prosecutors, in 1993, to prepare a racketeering indictment naming Raul Castro and 12 other high-ranking officers in Cuba's armed forces as drug-trafficking conspirators with the Medellin cartel. The Clinton administration later chose not to pursue the charges.
Economic depression gripped Cuba in 1996, which the Castros named "the Special Period." The suffering populace was unhappy and 130 opposition groups, banded together as Concilio Cubano, announcing a February 24th "unity rally" demanding free elections. To thinking people, the date might have been a good time for the Castro government to announce political and economic reforms. Instead Raul Castro rolled out his guns and ordered Cuban Air Force MIG fighters to shoot down a couple of civilian-American Cessna's flying over international waters in the Florida Straits in search of Cuban rafters to rescue. Four men died when the small planes were shot down. There was an international outcry and investigation that pinned responsibility on Raul. World attention was diverted from the rally in Havana, and the protesting dissidents arrested and jailed.
Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, famously called out the Castros for their criminal acts: "This is not cojones, this is cowardice."
Now, Panamanian authorities have found an arsenal of Cuban weapons loaded onto a North Korean ship, the Chong Chon Gang, and hidden by bags of sugar, all loaded in Havana. Ironically the Panamanians had stopped the ship expecting to find drugs. In the last few years, five other ships have set sail from North Korea, docked in Havana and then returned directly to North Korea via the canal. Who knows what else has passed through the canal? Kim and the Castros know, but those addicts of power, force and flouting impunity are not gloating... yet.