Tricking Customs, Another National Sport
Tricking Customs, Another National Sport / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez
Posted on December 7, 2014
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 6 December 2014 — Establishing
the rules of a sport takes time. Let’s take for example baseball, one of
the most complicated games that exists; one could ask where the rules
for its practice come from, and why some are so convoluted. But when it
comes to regulatory whim, let’s go to an activity that increasingly
approaches the category of extreme sport, and that is the entry of
products into Cuba trying to pass through the controls of the Republic’s
General Customs (AGR).
Much curiosity is awakened by the heap of prohibitions, conditions and
loopholes that regulate the arrival of luggage and packages to the
Island. There are so many questions that the official press devotes a
lot of space to explaining how the still-confusing system functions. But
more than confusing, annoying, because it affects the way in which
Cubans cope with their shortages, while also feeding a bulky staff of
This Thursday the official daily Juventud Rebelde devoted a whole page
to detailing, for the umpteenth time, how the mechanism works. With the
title of The Other Package – a clear allusion to the demonized “weekly
package*” – the text delves into the issues that it considers most
important for public awareness in regards to international parcels.
For that it cites, for example, Law Decree 22, where it is provided that
the total value of shipments may not exceed 200 CUP (Cuban pesos —
roughly $8 US); and Resolution 208 from 2014 whose provisions establish
that the import value of one kilo of miscellaneous items equals 20
pesos, so up to 10 kilograms of miscellaneous items can be imported via
shipping, with the first 30 CUP (1.5 kilos) being duty free.
Until that point let’s say everything is clear. The complications come
when the shipment is made of up “miscellaneous items” and “durable”
goods like appliances or tires. In such case, “the sum of both values
must not exceed the import limit legally established (…) because all
that exceeds that figure will be confiscated after the person chooses
the articles that he wants to prioritize.”
This is only the first complication of a thick tangle, because there are
also sender-receiver considerations. A Cuban resident on the Island who
finds himself on a trip, for example, will not be able to send to
himself a package on return to his country. The condition would be that
the delivery be classified as “household goods,” and not everyone in the
world has this right. Who does? The bulky manual of the AGR offers an
Also, the number of entries into the country determines the quantity of
products that can be brought in luggage, and this will affect also the
ability to receive packages. In sum, a newspaper page is not enough to
explain all that one needs to know when not knowing it could mean that
they won’t let your soap or coffee pass through.
In a country where the government lives to complain about external
harassment, the citizens live under the harassment of the authorities.
Any effort to supply the informal market or even the family economy in
an independent way can be considered illegal, without it mattering that
said activity serves to remedy the shortages somewhat.
In the capital there are three delivery points for packages. The others
are in Holguin, Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba and Varadero. Since there is
no courier service, those who live distant from these warehouses are
obliged to make inter-provincial trips. More complications, more work,
The directives of the AGR recognize that the existing installations are
insufficient, and they resort to the now usual promise that “we will
continue to expand service.”
If there is an excess of luggage or the package is too big – very easy
to achieve given the strict margin established – then comes the
expropriation, a point that has been avoided by official investigations.
When 14ymedio contacted the AGR asking about the matter, it reported the
confiscated articles wind up at the Ministry of Interior Commerce
(MINCIN), “so that they can be distributed to the Ministry of Health and
Education and others.”
Nevertheless it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find in a
hospital or school a flat screen television, a bottle of L’Oral cream or
other products that are commonly confiscated on arrival into the country.
For its part, at the MINCIN, specifically the “office of attention to
the people,” the operator does not know where to direct the question.
“This is the first time that someone has called asking what happens to
what Customs confiscates.”
One suspects that corruption within the AGR is rampant. After all, the
popular wisdom says that in Cuba everyone has a need, so everyone has a
It is evident that travelers insist on tricking customs controls, and it
is highly likely that they will keep trying. The contraband, another
non-institutionalized sport, challenges the imagination, even that of
those charged with writing the customs laws.
*Translator’s note: The so-called “weekly package” is a collection of
videos and other materials, ranging from news articles to computer
games, that circulates hand-to-hand in the ‘grey market’ as an
alternative to the very limited official TV and radio programming and
other Party-owned media.
Translated by MLK
Source: Tricking Customs, Another National Sport / 14ymedio, Victor
Ariel Gonzalez | Translating Cuba –