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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs