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U.S. Customs and Cuban Cigars

Our European editor discovers that America's borders are safe and secure against Cuban tobacco products.
From the Print Edition:
Tiger Woods, May/June 2008

After a week in Havana at the annual cigar festival, our European editor discovers that America's borders are safe and secure against Cuban tobacco products

I had a feeling it wasn't a good idea that I had those loose cigars in my bag the moment I left the Meliá Cohiba hotel in Havana in the dark at 5:30 a.m. to catch the 7:25 flight to Cancún. But there wasn't anything I could do about it. They were in my courier bag, and I wasn't going to give them to my taxi driver, or just leave them in the room.

Cancún was not my final destination that early March morning after a gala dinner that capped a five-day cigar festival on the island. I was going to catch a flight to Dallas and then to Santa Ana, California, for the 50th birthday party of a high school buddy. My port of entry into the United States was Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

I had good reason to be a little nervous. I have an affluent Mexican friend who was strip-searched in DFW just because he made a joke to a Customs official. Another friend at the gala dinner told me to "have fun in Customs in Dallas tomorrow. They are real bastards."

Technically, even licensed travelers to Cuba, like myself, are not allowed to carry any goods from the island into the United States, except for art, literature or other information material. But I figured a dozen or two cigars weren't going to set off an international incident. And I didn't have to leave them in the States because I would be returning to my home in Italy about a week later. The Cuban cigars, let us say, were in transit. Moreover, U.S. Customs had never stopped me before. In fact, a number of times Customs officials had just said to go right through even though I told them that I had a few cigars.

However, I knew I was in trouble the moment I arrived at immigration and the officer wanted to know what sort of business I was in. I said I was the European editor of Cigar Aficionado. My customs and immigration form noted that I had been to Cuba as well as Mexico.

"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 with his felt pen. I was directed to the customs hall for inspection. I wasn't that worried about it, though. The worse thing that they could do was confiscate the cigars.

I walked into the vast inspection area, which included six or seven booths with long, stainless steel tables behind them. The place was empty and almost echoed. One of the three Customs officers on duty was already checking out a couple who looked as if they had been on my flight.


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