The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly – North Korea’s legislature – officially confirmed the appointment of Pak Chang Yul as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s new ambassador to the Republic of Cuba, the KCNA reported Saturday.
The DPRK-Cuba relationship is among the most important in Pyongyang’s foreign relations. North Korea and the Caribbean island nation are both pariah states subject to sanctions. They are both adversaries of the United States and both lost what had been their biggest benefactor with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991.
Like other pariah states – especially those few remaining bastions of communism – North Korea and Cuba see mutual benefit in maintaining good relations and cooperating to survive in the face of international opposition and sanctions. The DPRK embassy in Havana is critical in conducting arms deals and other illicit transactions between North Korea and Cuba, including the Chong Chon Gang incident.
In July 2013, the North Korean cargo vessel Chong Chon Gang was found to be carrying weapons from Cuba to North Korea during a search when transiting the Panama Canal. Cuba admitted to shipping the weapons – which included anti-aircraft missiles, two MiG-21 fighter jets, and 15 jet engines – to North Korea, but claimed they did so legally for routine repairs.
Little is known about Pak, whose appointment comes five months after the position was vacated. The previous ambassador to Cuba, Jon Yong Jin, was recalled – and likely arrested if not executed – in December as part of the purge of Jang Song Taek and his associates. Jon was Jang’s brother-in-law.
Two other ambassador postings whose holders were purged in December – in Malaysia and Sweden – remain officially vacant. In all of these cases, it’s likely North Korea’s deputy chief-of-mission in each country has filled the role of acting ambassador.
Photo: Composite (Flags: Wikimedia Commons | DPRK embassy in Havana: Flickr by Thomas Peddle)
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