News / USA

    Illegal Cuban Cigar Imports on Rise in US

    A US customs agent unwraps a box of illegal Cuban cigars that will be destroyed, Dec 2010
    A US customs agent unwraps a box of illegal Cuban cigars that will be destroyed, Dec 2010

    Multimedia

    In September, President Barack Obama extended a decades old embargo against Cuba. In place since the 1960s, the embargo prohibits U.S. citizens and companies from trading with Cuban companies and purchasing Cuban products, including the popular Cuban cigars.

    The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, however, has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of contraband cigars being sent illegally to the United States. They arrive at the International Mail Facility at Chicago's O'Hare airport by the thousands each day. Boxes, envelopes, and packages from foreign countries, sent to destinations throughout the United States.

    Customs and Border Protection officers like David Radzicki inspect each package - looking for anything unusual. Ticking off a list of various things to watch for, Radzicki said, " ...  narcotics ... anything related to terrorism, and anything related to immigration violations."

    Since November, thousands of packages have not been reaching their intended recipients. That's because they are filled with dozens, even hundreds, of Cuban cigars. Under the 1962 U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, they are illegal, and are seized.

    "It is against the law for a United States citizen to purchase, consume, import any Cuban products from anywhere in the world," said Brian Bell, the Public Affairs liaison with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. "It's a prohibited item, and therefore it can be desirable. Cigar aficionados say the Cuban cigars are the best in the world."

    Officers began seizing large volumes of cigars in mid-November. Since then, Bell said, they have confiscated more than 100,000 cigars. The number continues to rise as more packages arrive daily.

    "We've never seen anything like it ever before," said Radzicki. "I know our management talked to other ports, and other ports haven't seen anything like it before. So we were all pretty surprised at the extreme volume we saw."

    "One cigar can go for as much as $5 all the way up to $55, and that is for one individual cigar," said Bell.

    Bell said the increase in contraband filtering through Chicago is due in large part to new security regulations - put in place in the wake of attempted terrorist attacks, which used explosives hidden in printer cartridges.

    "Anything that weighs over sixteen ounces or one pound is prohibited from being flown on a passenger aircraft," said Bell.

    Many cigar shipments used to find their way to the U.S. as cargo on passenger aircraft. With the new restrictions in place, those cigars have to fly on cargo planes.

    Few, if any, of the cigars come to the U.S. directly from Cuba. Bell said most are purchased from Swiss companies that incorrectly claim they can export them to the United States. Many European cargo aircraft fly to Chicago's O'Hare airport, where agents like Radzicki intercept the cigars.

    "People want them," said Radzicki. "As long as there is still an embargo I think people are going to find a way to get them, especially with the Internet. It makes it a lot easier."

    Instead of the cigars, the intended recipients receive a notice from Customs and Border Protection outlining why the cigars were seized. The contraband items are then stored in a secure facility before they are destroyed.

    "They are all going to be destroyed in a blast furnace," said Bell. "Contrary to popular belief, they are not going to be smoked individually. They're not going out as Christmas gifts.  We have very strict security measures in place to ensure that everything that comes into this facility that is prohibited is also destroyed."

    There are consequences to importing illegal cigars. Repeat offenders and businesses attempting to resell the contraband could face fines up to $55,000 if convicted, and in rare circumstances, could face imprisonment.



    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.