Trading With The Enemy
It May Sound Like a Heinous Crime, but Thousands of Americans Violate the Cuban Embargo Every Year
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94
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"I'm trying to explain the circumstances to them in Italian, and I tell them, 'wait, I'll get my friend who speaks Spanish.'"
Fauci's friend started to make a scene. "Don't you recognize this guy? He was in this movie..." Fauci pulled out glossy photos of himself (shot on some Hollywood set) and began to sign autographs for the soldiers' wives and girlfriends. Eventually, Fauci explained, one officer walked out from the group and said that although Fauci was obviously a very gracious man, there was a problem. All the men just stood there for a few seconds. Then Fauci's friend calmly asked the officer, "what will it take to make this problem go away?" Fauci offered $100, but the officer inexplicably refused, saying, "no, cincuenta dólar." "We paid the guy 50 bucks, and that was that," says Fauci, who was obviously rattled by the incident. Fauci and his cigars made it to Hollywood in one piece.
Smuggling stories vary in drama. A student at a large Eastern university smuggled cigars back from Norway in his socks. A New York banker has his buddy, an internationally renowned cellist, bring ci-gars back from abroad in his instrument case. One man, who distributes toys worldwide, travels to Europe on a regular basis. "I just put the cigar boxes in the toy sample cases. I declare the toys as samples, so there isn't a duty since they originated here anyway. And one time I'm bringing back H. Upmanns for my father-in-law and I get this young buck who's going to do everything by the book. He wanted to open the case, so I asked to speak to his supervisor."
Once the toy dealer was alone with the young Customs official's supervisor, an older gentleman, he asked the man for the name of his favorite Scotch. "I told him that I'd have a case of it on his doorstep by dinnertime." The toy dealer waltzed out of the official's office and his toys came with him--unopened. The Scotch was delivered by noon that same day. Still, even successful smugglers would like to see the embargo eliminated.
But questions remain about how, and if, the ban will end. Lifting the prohibition on travel would be rather simple. According to Congressional revisions to TWEA passed in 1977 and "grandfathered" each year since on September 14, the president must find that the embargo is "in the national interest of the United States."
Michael Krinsky, an attorney who specializes in Cuban affairs and business dealings with embargoed countries says, "it's an utterly meaningless standard. The Congress recognized that in 1977, but the Cuban issue was too hot to handle. The world has changed, and the cold war is over. No one can suggest that Cuba is a threat to our security or economy now." Krinsky says that with political calculation in the second term of a Clinton presidency, ending the embargo would attract minor backlash from south Florida while garnering tremendous praise from American business interests--which have missed out on millions of dollars earned by European and South American companies.
State Department officials say that the laws won't change overnight. One expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says, "it won't be solved with the stroke of a pen. We want freedom and democracy in Cuba." But the official does not claim that Cuba is a threat to the economy or security of the United States, which, according to the law, is what necessitates the continued sanctions.
For Customs, the embargo is a nuisance that leaves agents caught between strict enforcement and the ambiguities of a system unable to fully enforce the law. The outspoken agent on the Miami em-bargo-enforcement task force evaluates the Cuban situation in the harshest terms. "It's been a failure for 30 years. I hope it doesn't go on much longer."
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Mike Chingon — November 10, 2010 7:04pm ET
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