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

Kane Farabaugh

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.


You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More