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Epilogue to the Havana Blog

My friend, Tom Unvert, laughed and said “don’t worry about it buddy. Just get here in one piece for the party.”

But it did suck. I had 19 very nice cigars in my courier bag, including a five-pack selection of torpedos for Tom’s birthday present. The rest were mostly the new limited edition Partagas Serie D No. 5 and the Partagas Serie P in Tubos. It was the first time in 17 years that I had been stopped by customs and had cigars confiscated. Most times the customs guys don’t ask or simply let me go with a few smokes in my bags.

Granted, it is technically breaking the law. Since a few years ago, even licensed travelers to the island are not allowed to bring anything back from Cuba. Before, you could bring to the states $100 or less of Cuban goods from a licensed trip to the island. Today, only a few products are exempted, such as literature and art.

I knew I was in deep shit the moment I arrived at immigration and the officer wanted to know what sort of business I was in. I said I was European Editor of Cigar Aficionado.

“When was the last time you were in Cuba?” he asked.

“This morning,” I replied.

With that, he drew a big red “C” in the corner. I was directed to the customs hall for inspection. I wasn’t that worried about it though. The worse thing that I knew they could do was to confiscate the cigars.

Anyway, the first customs officer didn’t really know what to think. He asked me for press credentials and a license from the Office of Foreign Asset Control, which I told him I did not need to have on me. He had to speak to his supervisor.

“How many cigars do you have?” he said, looking like he was happy that he had a live one on the line.

I told him that I had 15 or so. “Let me see them please,” he said. “Don’t you know that we have an embargo with Cuba?”

I tried to explain to him that I knew all about the embargo and that I had been going to Cuba for 17 years. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to bring the cigars in but I wasn’t planning on leaving them in the states.

“When are you going back to Europe?” he asked.

“In about a week,” I said.

“How am I supposed to know that you didn’t smoke them while you are in the United States?” he said.

I guess he had a point. I promise you that I would not have left them in the states. And if I did, they would have been in the form of ashes!

His supervisor finally came out and said he was really sorry that they had to confiscate and destroy the cigars. “If you were in transit today, I would let you go,” he said. “But you are staying in the states for a while. We are going to have to follow the law.”

Another officer then came out with a menacing looking five-inch hunting knife. At first, I had a flashback to the movie “Deliverance,” but in fact it was only to cut up the cigars. I stood and watched every one cut in two -- lengthwise -- and thrown in a wastebasket.

“This is the part of my job I really hate,” said the officer.

I don’t begrudge any of them. They were just doing their jobs. And they were nice guys too. We spoke about Cuba for a while. They were really interested in the current situation. Then we spoke about cigars too. They said that just about every day the same thing happens, although most of the cigars look fake. They are most busy in the summer.

But at the end of the day it all seemed like a waste of everyone’s time and a sad waste of great cigars. I turned up empty handed at the party in California – just like most everyone else who wish to smoke Cuban cigars in America.
Jorge Armenteros Princeton, NJ March 5, 2008 12:08pm ET
welcome to America James...back to reality...
Steve Cohen Oakville, Ontario March 5, 2008 12:57pm ET
Be glad they did not do a cavity search on you James. To bad about those fine Cuban cigars, and a good thing you did not have boxes of cigars, as that would be a real shame.
DAVE Savona March 5, 2008 1:17pm ET
James, I'm reading this in the Dominican Republic and it almost brings a tear to my eye. That's horrible!
martin wysocki Houston, Texas March 5, 2008 1:42pm ET
Welcome back to the land of illogical Cuban policy.
Jose Blanco March 5, 2008 4:08pm ET
The funny thing about all this is, dont they have more important things to do, if the effort they put into cigars were done on drugs, believe me it would be a better world, that sucks.
Hans Laengerer Burlington,Ontario March 6, 2008 3:17pm ET
what a shame.The US-Goverment painted themselves into a corner and don't know how to get out of it.
Thomas Pacher March 7, 2008 7:45pm ET
This makes perfect sense to me. Why, in another 40-50 years, we'll bring Cuba and the Castros to their knees!Hey, what'd you expect from a government that is trying to stomp out terrorists from about ten countries over?
dean freeman March 8, 2008 5:46pm ET
JamesWhat a shame. I was in Cuba the same time as you. Actually saw you at the Hotel National. Being from Canada, I brought back a limited edition box of 2004s( from humidor in the National) and a box of Series P#2 Partagas. The embargo does not make sense in today's world!
Harold Killam March 10, 2008 9:20am ET
Sucks, but that is the law.
Fausto Abreu New York, NY March 13, 2008 2:42pm ET
What a shame! Politics and Cigars... Seems that cigar smoke has always been a part of politics, yet here in America, our politics shun great cigars. For those of us in America, I thank His Holiness for DR and their great cigars. I agree with Jose Blanco in that I wish the American government would have this kind of scrutiny and strong banning efforts against drug traffickers who truly are importing malice into the country.
Michael Gordon Healdsburg, CA March 13, 2008 2:59pm ET
You are preaching to the choir, James. I know you can replace these cigars, but their destruction is endemic of our failed and antiquated policy towards Cuba. We all know that this policy will be eventually changed, but simply wish it was sooner than later.
Jose Blanco March 13, 2008 5:45pm ET
Fausto, thanks for your kind words, but it is true, James can get any cigar from any factory in the world, and it is a honor that he smokes it, but the fact is, it sucks seeing good cigars go to waste, because of some thing stupid.
jason sanchez March 26, 2008 11:53pm ET
Next time remove the labels and replace them with something other than a cuban brand.Bring an empty padron box with you and put them in there. Tell them you are just bringing back unsmoked sticks from vacation.

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