Cigar Aficionado

Breaking through Customs in Havana

Cuban customs really gets to me. It’s not that the agents at Jose Martí Airport in La Habana are particularly unpleasant, or even aggressive, but they make me nervous. I begin getting edgy a few days before I have to leave the island, and by the time I get to the airport, my right eye is already twitching. My palms get sweaty. And I am not even doing anything illegal, or dicey.

But I keep on thinking about the film “Midnight Express.”  I keep on thinking about that guy busted in Istanbul with heroin taped around his torso, and all the bad crap that happened to him afterwards. Plus, I think about how there are no cigars in prison, not even in Cuba. It’s really stupid that I feel this way. Maybe I should talk to my therapist? 

(Unfortunately, I don’t have one anymore. She didn’t like cigars, so I had to get rid of her. I explained to her that a cigar is not just a cigar…but this is for a later blog.)

When I made it to Cuban customs I had two boxes of the absolutely amazing, perfect quality Cohiba Gran Reservas and a box of 1998 Trinidad Fundadores. In addition, I had three tiny bronze sculptures from one of Cuba’s greatest artists, Yoane Capote. I had export documents for the art, and I had receipts for the Cohibas. I didn’t have crap for the Trinis. But that didn’t matter.

I was holding a copy of the new three-page legislation for taking cigars out of Cuba. In fact, I am looking at it now as I write this. It’s Resolution No. 323-2009. It went into effect about two weeks ago.

This is what it says:
• If you are leaving the island, you have to declare if you are carrying smokes—both in carry-on luggage and checked-in bags.
• If you have have up to 20 cigars, you don’t have to present customs with any type of document. Nada, hermanos y hermanas!
• If you have up to 50 cigars, you can also leave without showing documents, so long as the cigars are in an unopened box (or boxes) with all the right seals and holograms.
• If you have more than 50 precious Habanos, you have to have an official receipt from an authorized cigar shop on the island.

It’s all pretty straightforward. No mention of values or anything.

The rest of the law is about sending smokes by the post or couriers (not a good idea if you ever want to see them again), that cigars under three grams weight can be taken in unlimited quantities (who cares?) and when the new law was going into effect.

That’s what the document says in Spanish, in brief, if I understand it correctly.

So, I was ready for my adversaries in customs a few days ago when I left the island. I had nothing to hide anyways. I went through immigration with no problem, but when I opened the buzzer door to customs as I was walking to my Virgin Atlantic flight to London, I was still nervous. I had a big knot in my throat.

I unloaded all my carry-on luggage and gadgets into the x-ray machine, and I was ready for the discussion with them. I went through. And I prepared my speech in my bad Español. And...

There was no one there! They were all on break! I just walked through to my flight without any confrontation!

"Hi James, I always enjoy reading your blogs. This one was to funny. Thinking about Midnight Express and worse yet there are no cigars in prison! LOL " —October 22, 2009 23:40 PM
"I felt the same way when i went through custom when I was leaving Havana last August. The Customs officer saw in the xray that I had many cigars and just asked how many I was carrying and smiled and let me go. Sometimes you just get lucky.Jose" —October 22, 2009 13:01 PM
"I always have the same feelings, worse when I enter the US.Several years ago, my wife & I were returning to Canada via Santa Clara. During the security screening, the inspectors mentioned they wanted to confiscate my 2 boxes of montecristo #2 & R & J exhibition #4. I started to panic & think the worst until one of the supervisors started joking & said they wanted them for themselves. They thanked us for our visit & hoped for our return & away we went. " —October 28, 2009 12:57 PM
"Did u have to mention the g.r."s again" —October 22, 2009 21:01 PM
"So james all you have to do is rember the time of day and ALWAY'S leave then!!lol.." —October 23, 2009 17:12 PM