Marielena Montesino de Stuart
SPECIAL REPORT: The USCCB, Cuba and the Chong Chon Gang
By Marielena Montesino de Stuart
October 2, 2013

♦ Bishop Richard E. Pates tries to influence American policy towards Cuba.

♦ The socialist reality of the USCCB is clear, even when they coat it with Cuban sugar.

♦ With Obama in the White House and Francis in the Vatican – socialists are running amok.


Yes... I would like to begin this commentary, which includes the subject of Cuban sugar (among other things) – by saying, ¡Aaaaaazúcar! (sugar!) – as Celia Cruz, the famous Cuban singer used to belt out at the beginning of some of her popular songs. Celia Cruz, who died in exile, never missed an opportunity to denounce Fidel Castro's criminal Communist regime. And she did so knowing full well how important it is to counteract the misinformation constantly put out about Cuba, by the overabundance of socialist fellow travelers.

So let's all say ¡Aaaaaazúcar! – because as a survivor of Castro's Communist regime I need you to join me in exposing the Castro sympathizers who keep spreading lies.

Cuban sugarcoating, from the USCCB

The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) is in a time warp. And I mean, a very, very bad time warp. The latest example has surfaced in the form of a letter written by Bishop Richard E. Pates on September 26, 2013, addressed to National Security Advisor, Dr. Susan E. Rice.

Bishop Pates
 chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace, at the USCCB in Washington DC. He is also the Bishop of Des Moines.

Bishop Pates's letter shows that he is uninformed – and completely disconnected from the meaning of justice and peace, when it comes to Cuba.

It is time that the USCCB be freed of these clueless prelates, who spread so much misinformation. It makes one wonder, just how much money are Catholics donating, in order to support the activities of Bishops, such as Richard E. Pates.

In his letter, Bishop Pates praises the recent pastoral message from the Cuban Bishops (which was nothing but socialist propaganda). Pates makes an absurd plea to Susan Rice for bringing down the Cuban embargo – a plea which shows that Bishop Pates is completely ignorant of U.S. and international trade with Cuba, Western Hemisphere geopolitical matters, including Cuba's illicit arms trafficking to North Korea.

Bishop Pates could not bring himself to utter a single word of condemnation of the Cuban government, in his letter to Susan Rice. In fact, he praised "Cuba's constructive role in mediating Colombian peace negotiations and cooperating with the U.S. Coast Guard in drug interdiction activities."

What galaxy does Bishop Pates reside in?

Here is an excerpt from Bishop Pates's letter [bold added for emphasis]:
    "We urge efforts to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba so that greater support and assistance can flow to ordinary Cubans. It is also time to remove the designation of Cuba as a sponsor of state terrorism. Such an obsolete classification prevents engagement between our countries and peoples. Engagement will do more than isolation to advance human rights and alleviate human suffering. It will also recognize Cuba's constructive role in mediating Colombian peace negotiations and cooperating with the U.S. Coast Guard in drug interdiction activities."
Remove Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism from the U.S. State Department list?

The hubris behind this absurd suggestion is typical of modernist (socialist) prelates.

This is inexcusable, in light of the Cuban government's long history of violence against its own people, fomenting communist violence in other countries – as well as illicit arms trade, as recently as two months ago. There are obvious reasons why Cuba has been on the U.S. State Dept., list as a state sponsor of terrorism, since March 1, 1982 – along with Iran, Syria and Sudan.

As the reader will see below, Bishop Pates has much to learn about the Cuban reality – or is he just ignoring it?

The Chong Chon Gang: keeping things in chronological perspective

It is important for the reader to remember that Bishop Pates's letter to Dr. Susan Rice, asking for the removal of Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, is dated September 26, 2013 – which followed a significant incident that took place during the month of July – an incident which was widely covered by national and international news:

The Chong Chon Gang, a North Korean ship that had left Cuba – was intercepted by Panamanian authorities, on suspicion of drug trafficking. But there is more.

Cuba, as a state sponsor of terrorism, is very experienced in clandestine matters. So is North Korea, which by the way, should be immediately added to the terror list. The question is – why has the U.S. government failed to do so?

The Chong Chon Gang's Bill of Lading falsely declared the cargo to be approximately 10,000 tons of sugar and polyethylene (plastic) spare bags. The ship had left the Cuban port of Puerto Padre, and was heading for North Korea.

But reports began to circulate that things were not so sweet, on board the Chong Chon Gang. There was more than just azúcar on the ship. In fact, inspectors found 25 shipping containers with weapons, parts, MiG-21 jet aircraft engines, two MiG-21 jet fighters, as well as six military vehicles, hidden under the 10,000 tons of sugar.

The captain of the Chong Chon Gang tried to commit suicide. One can only assume that he considered the fate that awaited him in Pyongyang, at the hands of Kim Jong Un. When you work for a Communist dictator – and something goes wrong, there is no mercy.

And you ask, why did the governments of Cuba and North Korea act in such a brazen manner?

Very simply put, because they have been able to get away with illicit arms trafficking before!

It is easier to intercept a North Korean Nodong missile (a redesign of the Scud technology) – then it is to intercept some of these North Korean ships carrying clandestine cargoes, since it is extremely difficult to identify illicit commodities, among the immense number of containers of international legal shipments.

The case of the Chong Chon Gang is simply the latest illicit arms trafficking episode involving the Cuban government.

A very descriptive report was published on August 27, 2013 by 38 North, of the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS (Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University) – which offers the following details of the arms cache found inside the Chong Chon Gang:
    > Two MiG-21 jet fighters

    > MiG-21 jet aircraft engines

    > 6 military vehicles

    > a variety of small arms

    > light weapons (SALW) ammunition

    > conventional artillery ammunition for anti-tank guns and howitzer artillery

    > generators

    > batteries

    > night vision equipment, among other items
The SAIS report was followed by a written testimony filed before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, by SAIS's Senior Researcher, Hugh S.W. Griffiths.

So, where was Bishop Richard E. Pates while all this was unfolding?

Probably chatting with other modernist prelates – and philosophizing on what's best for the people of Cuba, from the comfort of his "social justice and peace" office in Washington DC.

Yet, it doesn't occur to Bishop Pates, that the best thing for the people of Cuba is to simply be FREE!

But isn't this the way that socialists operate? They prefer to "dialogue" and engage in a tête-à-tête with the enemy, in order to find "solutions." Then, they go back to their desks and issue missives attacking an embargo established to defend freedom. Meanwhile, innocent citizens continue to be brutally persecuted by their Communist captors.

The Cuban government lies. That's what Communists do best.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba published this false statement on July 16, 2013, claiming that the clandestine weapons in the Chong Chon Gang were "obsolete" – and were going to be repaired and returned to Cuba.

That's hilarious.

If that were the case, Venezuela is a lot closer than Pyongyang – and the socialist Venezuelan government, which maintains intense military collaboration with Cuba, would gladly repair these jet fighters and weapons. In fact, if help is what the Cubans needed, the Venezuelans would have assisted in the repair of this military equipment, right on Cuban soil.

But Communist states cannot function without lying – which reminds me of last year's priceless headline in Moscow's PRAVDA (a Communist newspaper). Also, please note Barack Obama's banner ad for his Organizing for Action "grassroots" movement:

"UN: Cuba proposes to eradicate illicit arms trafficking" (link)

Meanwhile, the SAIS report reveals that "the various rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and conventional artillery ammunition, many in mint condition, were unused and much of it was in original packing cases. They clearly were not "to be repaired and returned to Cuba." Rather, these items were intended simply for delivery to North Korea for its own use." [Bold added for emphasis].

The ship's holds, originally designed for the transportation of sugar or grains, had been modified so that the illicit transfer of weapons and equipment could be hidden under the sugar cargo.

The following paragraph, in the written testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, is of great importance:
    "The Chong Chon Gang episode combines two of North Korea's maritime smuggling modus operandi: the use of shipping containers and bulk carrier vessels owned by North Korean companies. The United Nations Panel of Experts has documented the use of shipping containers for North Korea-related consignments of embargoed dual use or military goods that may be used for missile production or weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. In recent years such seizures have generally centered around cargoes destined for Syria, most likely related to the research facility in the Deir ez-Zor region that was bombed by Israel in 2007. These consignments, falsely declared and transported anonymously for much of their journey aboard container vessels owned by some of the world's biggest shipping lines, blend into the huge volumes of container traffic that depart East Asia for Middle Eastern, European and African markets on a daily basis."
It's interesting to note that Bishop Pates finds time to travel with Bishop Gerald Kicanas to remote Amazonian communities, in order to discuss "natural resources and land rights" – but he can't seem to travel 3 miles down the road from his USCCB office, to meet with experts in research, at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies – so he can learn about Cuba and its latest episode as a state sponsor of terrorism. What about the U.S. State Department? – which is located 4.8 miles away.

Only uninformed individuals would take Bishop Pates's letters about Cuba seriously... or perhaps those who have a socialist agenda

The absurdity of this situation is mind-boggling.

But, to make matters worse, this is not the first time that Bishop Pates tries to influence American policies towards Cuba. On April 17, 2012 Bishop Pates wrote a letter to then Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, requesting the lifting of the embargo – after returning from a trip to Cuba, during Benedict XVI's visit to the island.

This excerpt from Bishop Pates's letter to Hillary Rodham Clinton takes the cake:
    "While in Cuba, I had the opportunity to visit programs providing child and elderly care in which food and medical attention are provided to poor and vulnerable persons. The staff members selflessly administering these facilities and senior Cuban Church officials responsible for these programs repeatedly told me that the efficacy of their work was hampered by their inability to obtain products from the United States due to the trade embargo."
Really, Bishop Pates? REALLY?

I strongly suggest that Bishop Pates open his computer and immediately visit the COMBIOMED website in Cuba (PDF). Then, he needs to board a plane for Havana and ask Fidel and Raúl Castro why the COMBIOMED high-tech equipment – manufactured in Cuba and sold to other countries – is not available in the government-run hospitals, where Cuban citizens are often mutilated and killed, at the hands of incompetent personnel, trying to practice medicine in subhuman conditions.

Here is an excerpt from the Cuban COMBIOMED website (translation into English courtesy of Marielena Montesino de Stuart):
    "The research, development, production facilities and the marketing and technical services headquarters, are in Havana, Cuba, in the "Scientific Pole of the West" technology park – which brings together the most advanced Cuban institutions related to biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry and that of high-tech medical equipment.

    Today, COMBIOMED products are developed and produced in the modern ICID facilities, pursuant to the highest international quality requirements. They meet the requirements of the State Control Center of Medical Equipment of the Republic of Cuba, which are equivalent to those of the European Community and the Federal Drug Administration [FDA] of the USA."
Parroted slogans

What is most offensive about individuals like Bishop Pates – is that he has the audacity to write these letters, attempting to influence American policies towards Cuba, by citing his brief visit to the island – and conversations with individuals in Cuba, who are operating under the control of the Cuban government's Communist thugs.

It is disconcerting to see Bishop Pates join the list of visitors to Cuba – who return to the United States and start their letter-writing campaigns – which sound more like parroted slogans for the Castro Communist regime.

Wake-up call

I cannot emphasize this enough: how much money donated by faithful Catholics, was spent to educate and advance Richard E. Pates to the position of Bishop? Not to mention, the money needed to support his current activities, as Chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, for the USCCB. Is this what faithful Catholics get in return after donating their hard-earned money to the Church?

Bishop Pates needs to learn the truth about the Cuban economy and the U.S. embargo

In my recent article, where I denounced the "pastoral" message from the Cuban Bishops, I described the reality of the Cuban economy, as follows [bold added for emphasis]:

"Cubans exiled in the United States and in different parts of the world support a parallel Cuban economy through remittances to relatives in Cuba, with estimates as high as one billion dollars per year.

Despite the "embargo"
(which is merely symbolical at this point) and financial restrictions, U.S. exports to Cuba reached $711 million in 2008 before declining in 2009 and 2010. Cuba has become the 12th largest market in the Western Hemisphere for U.S. agricultural products.

The U.S. Dollar value of U.S. exports to Cuba in 2012 was $457,318,357.00 under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA) of 2000, which re-authorized the direct commercial (on a cash basis) export of food products (including branded food products) and agricultural products (commodities) from the United States to Cuba. This does not include healthcare products, which remain authorized by the Cuban Democracy Act (CDA) of 1992.

After the TSRA was set in motion, the United States became Cuba's fourth largest trading partner behind Venezuela, China, and Spain. While product types may vary, the United States is Cuba's largest supplier of imported food during most years.

Based on the above facts, the only "unjust and ethically unacceptable" policies that keep the people of Cuba in misery, are those that have been imposed by Castro's bloody Communist regime, for nearly 54 years

In addition to the above, the Obama administration has relaxed communications, travel and cultural exchange with Cuba, to the point of building new fantasy bridges of "social justice" with Castro's government.

Cuba's government continues to actively engage in foreign trade – as it aggressively prepares for the Panama Canal expansion (scheduled for completion in 2015) by approving the Decree Law of the Special Development Zone of Mariel, whose first project will be a container terminal, which will act as the main entry and exit point of Cuban foreign trade (and no doubt, illicit cargo).

Cuba and human trafficking

Beyond its skyrocketing rate of abortion, prostitution, hunger – as well as torture, imprisonment and executions, lies the horrific reality of human trafficking, which the Castro government refuses to discuss, because it is a state-sponsored crime.

But it does not appear that Bishop Pates knows about this either – or is he trying to avoid this topic, for the sake of rapprochement with Castro?

The 2013 U.S. State Department report on human trafficking states the following (bold added for emphasis):

"Cuba is a source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Child prostitution and child sex tourism reportedly occur within Cuba. Cuban citizens have been forced into prostitution outside of Cuba. There have been allegations of coerced labor, particularly with Cuban work missions abroad. Some Cubans working abroad have stated that postings are voluntary and well paid; however, others have claimed that Cuban authorities have withheld their passports and restricted their movements. The scope of trafficking involving Cuban citizens is particularly difficult to gauge because of the closed nature of the government and sparse non-governmental or independent reporting.

The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not respond to requests for data on prosecutions of sex trafficking and forced labor or on trafficking-specific victim protection and prevention efforts that occurred during the reporting period. Governments that do not provide such data, consistent with the capacity of governments to obtain such data, are presumed by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act not to have made significant efforts to address human trafficking

Parting thoughts

Bishop Pates needs a new job, in the real world, not in the modernist world of the USCCB – which, for men in his position, typically includes soirées and full-course meals, during gatherings held to discuss "social justice."

Yes, that same "social justice" that Fidel Castro offered the people of Cuba 54 years ago – only to turn the island into a hellish state.

The Vatican's modernist business of "dialogue," "social justice" and "peace" is such a busy one – that it probably leaves prelates, like Bishop Pates, little time to learn the facts.

Bishop Richard E. Pates should be immediately and permanently transferred to Cuba, where he can experience the communist reality, by living amongst the people – instead of fantasizing by writing letters to Susan Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton, from the comfort and safety of his well-appointed headquarters, in Des Moines and Washington DC.

Someone has to say the truth... ¡Aaaaaazúcar!


"Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega Must Resign"

"Why Not Cuba?"

"Vatican Readmits Leftist Thinking" (The Times – The Australian)

U.S. Census Bureau: Trade in Goods with Cuba (1992-2013) (Also available in PDF)

Risk Management – Emerging Markets for U.S. Agriculture: Focus on Cuba

2012-2001 U.S. Export Statistics for Cuba




STATEMENT by SAIS's Senior Researcher, Hugh S.W. Griffiths:



COMBIOMED website in Cuba (PDF)


Re-examining the Cuban Health Care System- Towards a Qualitative Critique, by Katherine Hirschfeld:

© Marielena Montesino de Stuart


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Marielena Montesino de Stuart

"...absolutely serious journalism, with a touch of humor."

Marielena Montesino de Stuart's commentaries cover politics, foreign affairs, religion and culture, at and Her insightful opinions are read by thousands around the world.

Marielena is a former candidate for the United States Senate (on the ballot, Republican 2012). Her memorable campaign is regarded as a turning point in the restoration of authentic conservatism in America. Please click here to read her full bio. You may contact Marielena Montesino de Stuart through the following link.


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