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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid