Epilogue to the Havana Blog
Posted: Mar 5, 2008 11:07am ET
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.
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