Colon City, Panama
By Carlos Jasso
I received a call from a colleague late at night saying there were rumors that a shipment of missiles from Cuba had been found on a North Korean-flagged ship at the entrance of the Canal in Colon.
At that point I stopped what I was doing and started calling my contacts in the security services, colleagues and scanning Twitter to confirm the time and place where the ship had been intercepted.
I got word that the captain of the ship had tried to commit suicide when police boarded the vessel and that there were indeed arms on the ship. I left the house in less than 15 minutes and caught a ride to the port with a colleague from a local newspaper. The port is an hour and a half away from the city and it was pitch black. There was little chance to see anything, so we decided to sit it out until dawn; maybe we would get a chance to see the ship. We got ready for a long night, three photographers perched in the car with lots of gear and a family of annoying mosquitoes that kept us company throughout the night.
The first rays of light brought reporters, photographers and cameramen and we all stormed out trying to catch a glimpse of the ship. It was pretty far away but luckily it was close enough to get by with, as a start. Interest in the story was mounting, especially after Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli tweeted a picture of what seemed to be a missile on board the ship. But there was no access and we kept being told “later, later.”
Finally, after waiting for endless hours, the president himself arrived at the port to inspect the ship and we were allowed to come along. When he stepped onboard he congratulated the officers in charge of the operation and started wandering around. There was too much press, too many people in general and I decided to quietly separate myself from the group as I wanted to explore a bit more on my own.
The first thing I saw were portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Jong-il and Kim il-Sung. As it turned out they were in every cabin and in every hallway. I wondered if they had been told to put up the images or was it because their love and admiration for them was so huge that that they wanted to see them everywhere and at all times.