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The Specter of Castro Haunts Panama Summit

By: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo - @OLPL - Apr 8, 2015, 1:48 pm
El fantasma del Chong Gong Gang recorre Panamá, cargado de hipocresía y (La Prensa)
The ghost of North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang and its deadly message for the region haunts Panama. (La Prensa)

EspañolA ghost ship haunts the halls of this week’s Summit of the Americas in Panama: the Chong Chon Gang.

The vessel, seized in the Panama Canal in July 2013, contained a deadly cargo hidden under 250,000 bags of sugar. The contraband ammunition and weapons on board, bound for North Korea, mocked the whole world and put half of Panama’s population at risk.

It also served as an epitaph for the Castro brothers, who have stirred up all civil wars in the region, and served as a lighthouse of populism that has lured many nations and individuals onto the rocks.

The same drifting-but-dangerous tyranny washes upon on Panama’s shores again this week, as the region’s (un)elected officials arrive to promenade in front of the world’s press for the Summit of the Americas.

Raúl Castro’s arrogance after his arms trafficking deal with Pyongyang became public is now rewarded with an invitation to attend the Summit in Panama. The military general and head of state — never elected by the Cubans — merely shrugged at the time, claiming that they were “obsolete weapons,” and few cared about the humiliation of the Panamanian people. No one cared either about the embarrassment we Cubans of integrity felt at the aggression the regime committed against our brothers.

Since the end of the Soviet era, the Caribbean island’s socialist elite have always used used Panama as its financial headquarters to launder drug trafficking money. Let the four military officers executed by firing squad in 1989 be a witness to that, plus the hundreds of people kicked out in Cuba weeks prior and during the US invasion of Panama in the same year.

US President Barack Obama and his cheerleaders in the press corps come to the region not to reprimand countries that shoot students and curtail freedom of speech. Rather, reporters can’t wait to be the first to snap the photo between the civilian leader and the despot in army uniform, even while both their days as leaders are numbered.

Only through observing this atmosphere of state-sponsored omerta can we understand how Rosa María Payá, daughter of Cuban pro-democracy martyr Oswaldo Payá — threatened and then killed on the orders of Raúl Castro on July 22, 2012 — was humiliated by anonymous National Security agents at the very door of her plane on Sunday in Panama City.

Neither Cuba nor Panama’s Foreign Ministry have owned up to the blunder, so who leaked the name of Rosa María before she landed and who ordered her detention and intimidation, as if she were an international fugitive?

The Panamanian thugs acted, it seems, at the behest of Cuba’s intelligence agency — or perhaps they just enjoyed illegally intimidating a free Cuban, going through her underwear, photocopying her private documents (faxed to Havana for sure), and even threatening to deport her to the island where the Castro regime murdered her father and her best friend, Harold Cepero.

They should have asked themselves: after all she has been through, how could she be afraid? They’d sooner be able to kill Rosa María, and more than a generation of young people at home and exiled abroad who proudly see themselves as Cuban (myself included), than scare us.

The apartheid the Cuban military imposed on our people, leaving thousands dead and expelling hundreds of thousands decade after decade, never had any real prestige in the continent. That’s the international left’s doing. That’s why we Cubans distrust so much the backing of Latin American governments of whatever stripe.

Unfortunately, the cause of liberty is unlikely to sound at the official Summit of the elites, where the Castro regime calls the shots and the region’s governments duly obey. They quake before the Cuban tyrant; the presidents of the Americas  know that Castro can spoil their party with an eruption of Bolivarian diatribe, protests, and diplomatic boycotts.

That’s why secret agents in Panama target Cuban activists, and why the press release in which the Foreign Ministry formally apologizes to Rosa María is not only disingenuous but pathetic.

Panamanians, you should ask forgiveness, from Cubans and the whole region. Having once allowed a ship of war to enter national territory, you’ve once again permitted the forces of destruction and death to befoul Panama’s waters.

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Laurie Blair.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo is a Cuban writer and photographer, a visiting fellow of the International Writers Project, and an adjunct professor at Brown University. Follow @OLPL and his blog Lunes de Post-Revolución.