Free the Korean freighter and crew!

When poor Somalis seize ships off the coast of their country, they are called pirates. But when Panama does the bidding of the U.S. and seizes a freighter from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it is hailed by the U.S. State Department and lauded by the big business media.

On July 10, the Chongchongang freighter, on its return home after loading cargo at Cuban ports, was violently commandeered by Panamanian forces as it approached the Panama Canal. The 35-person crew reportedly fought back, refused to lift the anchor and disabled the ship’s cranes.

The captured crew and captain are reported to now be imprisoned at Fort Sherman, a former U.S. base in Panama.

On July 17, the DPRK demanded the release of its ship and crew. According to information provided to the Korean Central News Agency by a spokesperson for the DPRK Foreign Ministry, “There occurred an abnormal case in which the DPRK trading ship Chongchongang was apprehended by the Panamanian investigation authorities on suspicion of ‘drug transport,’ a fiction, before passing through Panama Canal after leaving Havana Port recently.

“The Panamanian investigation authorities rashly attacked and detained the captain and crewmen of the ship on the plea of ‘drug investigation’ and searched its cargo but did not discover any drug. Yet, they are justifying their violent action, taking issue with other kind of cargo aboard the ship.

“This cargo is nothing but aging weapons which are to send back to Cuba after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract.

“The Panamanian authorities should take a step to let the apprehended crewmen and ship leave without delay.”

This attack, clearly approved if not arranged by U.S. authorities, who admit to tracking the ship and providing information to the Panamanians, comes shortly before solidarity groups from all over the world will be converging on the DPRK to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the armistice agreement of July 27, 1963, which ended the Korean War. The theme of the event will be to demand the U.S. sign a peace treaty and end the more than six decades of hostility that have kept the situation on the Korean peninsula on a hair-trigger.

On July 16, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelly, a millionaire and graduate of the Staunton Military Academy in the U.S., personally inspected the Korean ship while news cameras rolled. He tweeted a picture and broadcast his views live on Panamanian radio. The resulting headlines asserted that “mysterious weapons” — which turned out to be Soviet-era airplane engines, radar equipment and parts of old missiles — were “hidden” under bags of sugar on the ship, implying intentional concealment.

Perhaps longshore workers would want to comment on why heavy crates of steel parts would normally and necessarily be loaded first, before sacks of sugar — concealment not being one of them.

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly issued a statement, clarifying that the shipment contained “10,000 tons of sugar. In addition, the above-mentioned vessel transported 240 metric tons of obsolete defensive weapons — two anti-aircraft missile complexes Volga and Pechora, nine missiles in parts and spares, two Mig-21 Bis and 15 motors for this type of airplane, all of it manufactured in the mid-twentieth century — to be repaired and returned to Cuba.” The Ministry said the weapons are needed “to maintain our defensive capacity in order to preserve national sovereignty.” (cubaminrex.cu/)

Those who claim to be proponents of free trade are denying it to two sovereign, socialist countries that have firmly stood up to imperialist attack, blockade, invasions and lies.

Free the Chongchongang and its crew! End the blockade of Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea!