August 14

Weapons and Cookbooks


Did you hear the recent news about Panama? North Korean Ship Flagged and Detained by Panamanian Forces.  Yeah, Panama. It all began with a tip received by the Panamanian law enforcement: a North Korean ship named Chong Chon Gang apparently carried either drugs or ammunition in the midst of its supposedly-sacks-of-brown-sugar cargo.

The tip ended up being true and the heist ended with a violent standoff held between 35 North Korean crew members and Panamanian marines. Damn. The North Korean crew members, who were armed mostly with sticks, were arrested and subdued. Double damn. They resisted the search and exhibited resistance and violence. Their captain on the other hand, tried to kill himself, while claiming he was having a heart attack, to avoid and elude capture.

Reuters reported that what Panama stopped was a ship that bears the North Korean flag. It was stopped near the Manzanillo area, located on the canal’s Atlantic side. The ship left Russia’s far east around April; it travelled around the Pacific Ocean prior to entering the Panama Canal. Chong Chon Gong entered the canal around June and declared Cuba as its stated destination.

The ship was explained as a general cargo ship owned by Chongchongang Shipping Co. and located outside Pyongyang. An arms trafficking expert from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute named Hugh Griffiths said the Chong Chon Gong has been on their suspect list for some time now.

The ship had actually been captured before for trafficking both small arms ammunition and narcotics.  Ricardo Martinelli, President of Panama, immediately flew into action to check further on the detained North Korean ship. He checked the ship out, and even ended up posting an image of the captured equipment on Twitter. Gotta love it!

Missiles… from Sugar? Suspicions arose when the ship crossed the Pacific Ocean without switching on its automatic tracking system. According to Frank Gardner, a BBC security correspondent, this move could be labeled as highly suspicious.  It turns out that the ship that had set sail from Cuba was hiding and carrying weapons such as ballistic missiles concealed in brown sugar containers.

Both Cuba and North Korea said Chong Chon Gang supposedly contained a range of obsolete defensive arms that were sent to North Korea for repairs, and will afterwards be returned to Cuba.  But what initially caused the Panamanian authorities to became suspicious of the ship was because they thought it was carrying drugs. They got surprised in the end seeing all those undeclared cargo full of weapons. They unearthed arms from underneath sacks of brown sugar.  President Martinelli even did investigations on the ship personally, saying the ‘undeclared weapons’ were indeed hidden underneath the bags of sugar the ship was carrying.

The Truth Behind the Vessel… The vessel inspected had included two anti-aircraft missile complexes (Pechora and Volga), two MiG-21 fighter jets, 15 motors for the previously mentioned fighter jets, nine missile parts, and some replacements for the missile parts. Most of them were clear components of a surface-to-air missile system. All confiscated were Soviet-era military weaponry made in the middles of the 20th century.  US officials  confirmed the weaponries’ model to NBC News, saying the ship carried SA-2 – a radar system for a family of missiles. They even added that the SA-2 was the type of missile used to shoot a U-2 spy plane carried by Gary Powers, an American pilot, in May 1960 over the Soviet Union.

United Nations had set sanctions that North Korea is banned from exporting weapons, and they are only allowed to import small arms.  After North Korea’s third nuclear test on February 12, the sanctions were strengthened, and measures have been heightened, giving states’ authority to scrutinize suspicious cargo.

UN Investigates

Panama’s Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino initially told reporters that a visit from UN Security Council representatives will be expected at the President’s request on August 5. However, it turns out that the cargo unloading process took longer than expected – Panama had to remove 100 thousand tons of sugar, and to date, around 25-30% has been removed. And so, the investigators’ visit is requested to be held preferably around August 12. The Department mentioned that any shipment of arms or any related material aboard the ship violates three UN resolutions at the very least.

All the while, the United States commended actions made by Panama, saying they strongly support Panama’s steps toward the ship’s full inspection. And …they are glad to offer help from Washington if needed.


Meanwhile, mentioning heaps of sugar may make some people crave for food. And what better solution is there than to look at Panamanian cookbooks that offer mouthwatering recipes. People were asking me – which Panamanian cookbooks do I highly recommend?

Here are some of the good cookbooks that will make you crave for Panamanian cuisine:

Cocina Panamena – This is a great compilation of Panamanian typical recipes; it shares recipes about products abundant in the region. Food becomes more appetizing as images come in full color. It’s not hard to browse through the cookbook as well – sections are separated into various food groups such as Meats, Poultry, Rice, Other Grains, Fish and Seafood, Salads, Soups, Desserts, and Beverages. So if you’re just craving for a particular type of food such as desserts, you can immediately proceed to that section.

The book also has its 2nd bilingual edition, so it doesn’t matter if you speak Spanish or English; it supports both, which means you can understand and can apply the recipes listed.

Recetas de mi Suegra (translated as ‘Recipes from my Mother-in-Law’) – This is also a special bilingual collection of recipes from Panama; it even contains a glossary of fruits and vegetables that are commonly found in the country.  It’s smaller than the usual cookbook, however you’ll like how it accommodates people understanding any of the two languages – the recipe has Spanish on one side and English on the other side. It can even enable cooks to be familiar with the other language.

And last but not least, Taste of Panama: From My Family to Yours – this is my cookbook, of course. These are authentic recipes passed down over 100 years in my family from one generation to the next.

Peaceful Panama

Panama generally is a peace-loving country. It’s known for its southern charm, beautiful sandy beaches, and its coastal cuisine.  Don’t let the North Korean ship interfere with you enjoying the country. Check their cookbooks out, have a taste of their cuisine, and for sure, the food will tickle your fancy.


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