Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Smell of scandal


OUR OPINION: United Nations and U.S. officials need to step up their vigilance of Cuba amid growing scandals

A rusty North Korean ship hides 2 MiGs, munitions and radar systems — 240 tons of contraband weapons in all — under tons of sacks of Cuban sugar then gets stopped going through the Panama Canal.

A former Cuban Interior Ministry colonel accused of abusing prisoners of conscience retires in Miami, then flees to Cuba when former prisoners spot him on South Florida streets only to return again, this time to New Jersey, and, get this, apply for U.S. aid.

A growing number of Medicare fraudsters owing the U.S. government millions of dollars for fake claims exit stage left and head to the communist island, living the high life with impunity.

Meanwhile, Cuban officials keep decrying the U.S. “imperialist” government for an embargo that has so many loopholes — allowing food, medicine and even high-tech communications to reach Cubans — that it’s turned into a paper tiger without a Cold War roar.

What’s going on? Are U.S. officials paying attention?

The rusty Chong Chon Gang will get a visit from United Nations weapons experts this week as they try to determine if the hidden weapons are in violation of a 7-year-old arms embargo on Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons and long-range missile development programs. The ship was stopped July 15. Why the U.N. delay? Summer vacations?

The six-member inspection team is expected Aug. 13-15. It should not take another month to determine what seems obvious to most: The weapons were hidden precisely because officials from Cuba and North Korea knew they were breaking the law.

Then there’s the case of Crescencio Marino Rivero, 71, and his wife Juana Ferrer, as reported by El Nuevo Herald’s Cuba reporter Juan Tamayo on Sunday. Rivero was the top prison official in Villa Clara province, but he either lied on his U.S. visa application or U.S. officials looked the other way to allow him to live in the United States. His wife was also an Interior Ministry official in Cuba.

Now he’s supposedly living with relatives in the town of Kearny, N.J., or he may have taken a flight to Canada once El Nuevo Herald reported the human rights abuser who decried “imperialism” was sitting pretty in our free country.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement may be investigating if the couple lied on their entry papers, but ICE officials won’t confirm it — though former political prisoners have said ICE officials have interviewed them about this case. The couple maintains they are innocent and simply want to live in peace near their daughter in South Florida.

It wouldn’t be the first time that former Cuban military or Interior officials get a pass — virtually every U.S. administration has allowed it in exchange for information that those former officials can provide about Cuba. But in this case there was no apparent request for political asylum by the pair. They just applied in the many ways that Cubans can now enter the United States: either through the visa lottery or to visit a relative.

The question begs: If Cuba is on the State Department’s “terror” list, why would the regime’s former officials be able to obtain U.S. visas and go back and forth to the island in their “retirement”?

Is that really in best interests of U.S. security?

Cuba is not a postcard of rum and dance. It should give U.S. officials pause that the 54-year dictatorship run by the Castro brothers has been securing friends in all the wrong places: from North Korea to Iran. Nothing good can come of it.

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