Island with excess baggage

Lacking any protection, Cubans enter the General Customs of the Republic where they pay the price of return. A chalk mark on the suitcase signals who must pass through the scaffold-of-valuation and the institutional assault-by-taxation on certain goods. Curiously, the airport employees have a keen nose for detecting returning nationals because they know they come bearing various and incredible objects. Outside, in the waiting room, families dream of embracing their emigrés and fantasize about the possible gifts, meanwhile they weigh the passenger’s luggage and show the heavy toll demanded to settle up.

One might come to think that in a country where so many products and resources are lacking, flexibility about importing them—on a personal scale—should characterize the customs process: but that’s not the case. Rather, we live at the other extreme, with a strict, “List of internal valuation” that forces repayment for the contents of the bags, whether it is soap, a tin of sardines, or a laptop. Everything is complicated when the excited visitor thinks to bring the relatives a household appliance or a digital camera. If he wishes to bring in these modernities, he must empty his wallet of an amount that runs from 10 to 80 convertible pesos. It comes to be like a ransom, given to the “kidnappers” of the foreigner so that the equipment can reach the hands of its recipients.

Like an industry of robbery, Cuban customs expands, daily, the numbers confiscated, while adding thousands of dollars to the cash box through the concept of taxes. Their huge storerooms are filled with hair dryers, Play Stations, electric ovens and computers brought by travelers. The destination of these goods is never explained, but we all know they take the Olive Green Road of so very much else. The Island would appear, if we are guided by the restrictions on entry, to be on the point of drowning under the pounds of abundance and prosperity. But we all know that its forty-three thousand square miles are on the verge of floating away, from the lightness that results from lack of productivity and scarcity.

140 thoughts on “Island with excess baggage


  2. DEATH TO COMMUNISM [remainder of comment removed for personal threat]

    Moderator’s note: It is fine to wish death to ideas, political systems and other inanimate things on this blog; death threats against persons cross the line.

  3. Juan

    You are joke with your pseudo intellectual words and superior attitude. “You and your kind”? What kind am I Juan? You want to pigeonhole everyone who doesn’t agree with you in some tight little bundle. You are laughable.

  4. It is understandable that I come across as a right-winger; however, I must point out that I believe in homosexual rights, decriminalization of soft drugs, universal health care, the right of a woman to have a choice regarding abortion. Moreover, I voted for Barack Obama, for he was the only candidate who could address our country’s domestic issues in a rational fashion. I am only a right-winger when I have to deal with Cuban communists;hence, one should never judge a book by its cover.

    Pedro Luis Boitel

  5. Who cares about the Cuban government and its reaction? As far as I am concerned, every communist should visit the hangman. I am certain that once the communist system collapses, the only solution to the “communist dilemma” will be the extermination of those who condone such an obsolete form of government. The time will come, for it is inevitable as well as imminent. PATRIA SI, COMUNISMO NO!

    Pedro Luis Boitel

  6. “Concerning the UN vote who gives a hoot.”
    You and your kind have a very selective attitude to democracy. The fact that the rest of the world disagrees with the blockade is irrelevant.
    “So let me get this straight, if you present your opinion/propaganda/misinformation as fact it is up to me/us to disprove it?? ”
    Not in the least. But when I am accused of lies etc etc etc then I naively expect some intellectual rigour to back up the accusation. Debate yes – vitriol and unsubstantiated venom – no. That so many here are unable to avoid the perjoritive does a tad undermine their arguments. But at least I have been give a few good laughs for that I thank you.

  7. Juan

    Your agenda is truth, who’s truth? So if I challenge your BS that means I don’t believe in free speech? hahaha….. pretty self-serving. So let me get this straight, if you present your opinion/propaganda/misinformation as fact it is up to me/us to disprove it?? Pretty convoluted logic and again, self-serving. Everybody has an opinion some more informed than others, but in the end just an opinion, open to debate and challenge, that is free speech.

  8. My agenda is truth. As I have asked previously to detail my alleged lies, misinformation etc please do so. Unlike you I believe in free speech. Those other nationals who who can send money to Cuba direct from our own country do not have to pay the 10% penalty which in any case is only applied to USD cash. If you were fair dinkum about doing something wouldn’t it be simpler to change the laws that prevent ANYONE in the USA doing exactly that and sending a bank transfer from a US bank? Again I ask is it Cuba’s fault that the US government prevents its citizens from doing what everybody in ALL other countries can do? Talk about shooting yourselves in the foot!

  9. Juan

    Your condescending and superior attitude doesn’t mask the misinformation you are spewing. Even if you were right what does your erroneous argument about “exchange” rates prove? What is your agenda?

    Concerning the UN vote who gives a hoot. This is the same body that places Cuba and other violators of human rights on their Human Rights Council.

  10. You are obsessed with misinformation. Your ‘threat’ got my attention as it is so so laughable. Don’t you recognise the irony in my words. Why do you think that at the annual UN vote on the blockade ONLY 2 or 3 other countries support the USA? Maybe I should stick to spanish.

  11. Juan I do remember very clearly that the Cuban regime responded with the 20 percent tax or whatever you want to called when the Bush government limited the travels and the remittances by Cuban american to Cuba. Those things are gone. Is time to set that back to what it was.
    Obviously there is needs to be a deadline to produce results with the Cuban regime. Otherwise we will never see it happen.
    I am not sure if shaking is the right word but it sure got your attention. So please is in the best interest of the regime to eliminate those fees.

  12. Boy! – setting a deadline. The Cuban government will be shaking in their boots.
    Please put most of Europe on notice too because when i travel there I only get .70 of a Euro for every $1USD. That is whopping 30% tax. It is time they were called to heel.
    Yep don’t let facts get in the way of blind prejudice.

  13. Look Juan it matter little to us how you want to called it.
    If we take 100 dollars to Cuba the Cuban regime using the dual currency scheme they have manage to steal a 20 percent value on each dollar.

    I think is time for the Cuban regime to do away from the dual currency system. That is their choice but we can and should take measures against this behavior by the Cuban regime.

    We are not asking for the moon. We want all this fees I am talking about eliminated. Period. Nothing more clear. So please communicate this to your superiors.
    We are tired of the little games play by the regime.
    As Dr Freud mentioned we the US have already earn the title of enemy number 1 of Cuba one more thing would not get us any better. Don’t you think?
    I am very serious about my statements if within a month the Cuban government does not give us any signal of change we will proceed to request legislators here to take punitive action on exports to Cuba from the US.
    Remember this is not only the currency issue. Is also charging for Cubans visiting here a monthly fee, is not allowing Cuban american to visit Cuba with only their american passport.


    I do not care if the fee is not apply to AMEX travelers Check.
    We want the dollar CUC issue solve in a month time.

    The end result should be that a product sold by Cuba in Cuba is not more expensive than the same or comparable product sold in the US as pay by US dollars.

  14. Repeating a misnomer however many times does not make it true however.
    And that some of you are so fixated on this 20% myth calls into question many other so-called ‘facts’.
    I wrote in my very first clarification of this issue many days ago a complete explanation of when the 10% penalty applies and when it doesn’t. And to call an exchange rate a tax is nonsense.

    “Noone unless they have more money than brains takes USD in CASH to Cuba knowing that that there is a 10% penalty on top of the usual exchage rate. That 10% does not as I have already tried to explain to you apply to Amex USD TCs.

    EVERY other currency in the world is exchanged for CUCs at a rate equivalent to 1 USD to .90CUC. What is so difficult to understand about that.”

  15. 112
    John Two
    Enero 10th, 2010 at 16:32

    ………. Won’t it hand another undeserved propaganda victory to the Castro regime in which they can once again blame the USA for the shortages of food and medicines, rather than their own mismanagement?………….

    So what???….. Any way, dear John, the tyranny blame USA for all its problems and I am sure they will continue blaming USA for theirs problems long after USA lift the embargo if this would ever happen. The tyranny is today in a critical economical situation, it is very possible that raising taxes for USA’s sells to castro and converting these taxes in a negotiation weapon we can get the tyranny exchange a tax relief for the ransoms they gets for our kidnapped people. In such way we can get a real relief for the cubans.

  16. John let me be clear I do not like the Cuban regime.
    Any government that uses its own citizens for ransom is a criminal government.

    My objective as it is the objective of many here is to obtain freedom for all Cubans in Cuba. The regime will never do that on his own. Because they want to stay in power until they die. This time their situation is much much worst. Nobody want to deal with them since every one knows they do not pay. Even worst, They can not pay!

    Don’t you think the tyranny should have known better than be dependent of the country they always spell out as their enemy number 1? They have spend the last 50 years talking about an american invasion that never came.

    I think if they take away all these fees now or in a months time there will be no need to go to such extreme measure. We as Cubans have the right to organize and as cuban-american citizen also have the right to request for things we think will finally solve the Castro issue.

    I will be getting in touch with some american legislators about what measures to take in order for Cuba to comply. I suggest and will ask other many other Cubans I know to do the same. It will not be hard to convince them. We all get the Castro bite once in a while. Whenever we send money to Cuba or when a relative comes visiting or when we go visiting or just a simple phone call. It should not be that way.

    Withing one month If the Cuban government have not given any signs that it will not be dropping the 20 percent fee and all this other artificial fees it charges to Cubans I will suggest we all ask every Cuban american we know to talk to their legislators as to impose a punitive tax on Cuban imports.

    The Cuban government is a bully. The only way to deal with a bully is with another bully. If the Cuban people do get to the point of break I am sure the regime will be more afraid of them that of the Americans. So the best and more reasonable choice is to comply with our demands.

    By making the law conditional on the elimination of the fees the Cuban government imposes it places the guilt back to the Cuban government. So they will be the only ones to be blame.

    Enough of the abuse by the Castro regime

  17. Julio, one of the remarkable things about the decision to exempt food and medicine from the US embargo less than 10 years ago is how dependent Cuba has become on the USA for these products despite having to pay cash for them.

    In less than 10 years, Cuba has come to depend heavily on US food imports. The main reason seems to be geographic proximity. Agricultural products – especially in bulk form – are expensive to transport relative to their monetary value. The USA is simply the cheapest supplier.

    Here’s an informative link with lots of information of US agricultural trade with Cuba:

    You’d think this would give the USA some leverage in its dealings with Cuba. Yet, linkages like the one you’re proposing rarely seem to work b/c the regime is able to frame them as attacks on Cuba. I think the best approach is for the USA not to be provoked but to keep taking some unilateral actions. Lifting the travel ban on non-Cuban Americans is one of those actions that might put the regime on its back foot

  18. This is in answer to a question by Tracy from prior post
    She wants to know how the rationing system works.

    Tracy let me explain a bit. It’s been 20 years I lived in Cuba but I still remember.

    They give you this rationing book on the OFICODA is the name of the office to give you this. So it is assign one per household. All occupants of the household are in it. As you can see they are also classify depending on age.

    They are classify by age because to children they give milk but the rest can not drink milk. (they cut age is 7) older than 7 the child does not get milk.

    Then they have lines per month for beans, rise, poultry or fish allowances
    if you check in some other post here someone listed how much of each of this things they may get. The food they buy using the rationing book is not free. In fact some older retired people are only able to afford this. Their salaries are much lower than working people. They will earn if they are lucky about 200 Cuban pesos a month (7 dollars a month). That’s about half the standard salary for working Cubans.

    That is barely sufficient for them to buy the food from the rationing book. Then they this food is not really sufficient as we computed the amount of calories supply does not satisfy the needs of a normal human. They will have to fence for themselves and find by whatever means the food at market prices. Since they make so little money for many it means they will have to steal from the government or do something consider illegal. Needles to say many of the transactions of selling and buying happen in the black market.

    I remember going to visit and their normal chicken was really small like a Cornish hen.

    Many of the items in the list they may not get them at all. Also if you are not in the move when they arrive to the distribution center you may not get it at all since the people that works at this distribution centers are very corrupted and will try selling some of it to people paying higher prices. They have found also many instances of people not even getting the assign portions just because the bodeguero will like to keep some for himself in order to make some extra money.

  19. They charge around 300 US dollars to get the Cuban passport and around 150 or so for the permit to entry Cuba. So it like if the american government would charge american citizens to enter their own country!
    The Cuban passport last only two years after that if you do not extend it you will have to pay again 300 some dollars!

    So as Freud was saying this is extortion!

  20. The reason they are out of money is their own financial nightmare they created on their own with their planned economy!

    Someone else have any other ideas or suggestions different than the idea I am suggesting please post it here.

    The objective is to get the Cuban regime to eliminate the 20 percent tax on the dollar and elimination of all this other fees they charge for Cuban visiting the US. I think they do the same for Cubans visiting other countries. Also if a Cuban is a citizen of some other country he should be able to visit his homeland with a passport from his adoptive country they should not be ask to get a Cuban passport.

  21. If we ask congress to place the fee conditionally meaning if the regimes takes away the 20 percent fee then we take the 20 percent fee I do think it is very reasonable. The objective here is to make the Cuban government take the 20 percent fee and the substantial devaluation of the US dollar.

    Like you I will not like to make the Cuban people suffer but we should be able to show easily the guilt back on the Cuban regime by making the law conditional on the elimination of all these fees the regime charges.

  22. Maybe all the scarcity in Cuba is intentionally produce by the government so that Cubans from abroad keep sending money.
    Cuba used to produce mostly everything a Cuban will eat. From pork, meat, rice and beans, banana, plantain,chicken, vegetables.

    So there is no need or their should be not need for them to import any of that. It is their stupid inefficient bureaucracy that has created all this problems.

  23. John how can we solve this then? Is the only thing I could think of that could force the regime to take the 20 percent tax on the dollar.

    Do you have any other idea on how to solve it?

    My hope is that they will take the 20 percent tax on the dollar and we do not have to do such thing.

    See they way I see this is that the regime got the Cuban people hostage and is asking for ransoms all the time. From the money we sent to when they come to visit of the very high fees they charge to get a Cuban passport when a Cuban is already citizen of another country. This should not be.

    The Cuban regime works like a mafia organization.

    How do you suggest we deal with it so as not to get those fees?

  24. Julio, I’m as critical as you about the fees charged by the regime. But I still maintain that a tit for tat reprisal by the USA levying a 20% export tax on imports to Cuba would hurt the Cuban people more than the regime.

    Cuban imports from the USA consist mostly of food and medicine for which as I understand it the regime pays cash. Given how depleted Cuba’s cash reserves are, levying a 20% export tax would likely mean a 20% reduction in the import of food and medicine from the USA. Won’t this hurt the Cuban people? Won’t it hand another undeserved propaganda victory to the Castro regime in which they can once again blame the USA for the shortages of food and medicines, rather than their own mismanagement?

  25. By any chance do you guys know the tyranny charges 120 dollars per month to each person that comes here to visit relatives?

    Is like they are renting us the Cubans

    That should also be eliminated!

  26. John it is with the objective so that the regime takes away the 20 percent tax currently place on US dollars exchange. They know better.

    When they place this fee or tax it was on the Bush era. So that they could collect more money from us. I think is time for them to revert that tax back. Since Obama has returned to the position where we can sent all the money we want to sent and also eliminated the restriction on travel.

    I think is only fair they should return to just one currency in Cuba and eliminate this 20 percent tax on our families. I think this is something that can mobilize and unite everyone here.
    Also if by any chance they are thinking on charging the money somehow on the purchase goods by Cubans in Cuba then we should still keep it up.

    The Cuban government does not have the right to charge such a huge amount totally de-evaluating the dollar. We are not talking about little money here. We are talking about a substantial amount they are placing in their fat pockets.

    Also the Europe community should pursue similar measure, Our brothers in Europe should pursue something similar because that 10 percent tax they get charge is also excessive.

    Actually the way I see it is as an incentive for Cuba to produce their own food. If medicine is not subject to this 20 percent hike by the Cuban government then it should not be charge the extra 20 percent.

    The abuse by the regime extend to all of us. When they charge our brothers an arm an a leg for substandard merchandise that nobody could reasonably sell in any other country.
    Paying 20 CUC for shoes that break in a month is not acceptable.

    They have the choice of not having this 20 percent set into law here if they revert their changes. I guess it will be acceptable a very small fee for exchange but nothing else. No penalty for using US dollars! That is the objective.

    Cuban regime hope you are listening.

  27. Julio, given that food and medicines are the two largest Cuban imports from the United States, wouldn’t the US imposing a 20% export tax increase the suffering and hardships of ordinary Cubans?

    BBC Mundo: Cuba without water for cracks

    “Cuban authorities acknowledged that more than half the potable water flowing through the pipes of the island caribea is lost due to leaks and breaks in the distribution networks”

    Miami, Jan. 8 / El Nuevo Herald / Cuba will use a contractor arrested in negotiations with Washington

  29. 102
    Julio de la Yncera
    Enero 10th, 2010 at 11:18

    This 20 percent tax was invented by the regime when the Bush era restrictions to money sent to Cuba was put in place. This tax should be abolish right now. If withing a month is not.

    We should actively campaign US legislators so as to introduce a measure to place a 20 percent punitive measure on purchases by Cuba in the US.

    Very good idea!!!!!
    We should work for get taxes on the purchases the regimen perform in USA according to the different extortion the tyranny implement on the cuban people….. for exemple if the tyranny made the cubans pay for visa for traveling out and in the country and the visa cost is 25% of the total emigration charges then the tyranny must pay 25% in taxes for purchases made in USA.

  30. This 20 percent tax was invented by the regime when the Bush era restrictions to money sent to Cuba was put in place. This tax should be abolish right now. If withing a month is not.

    We should actively campaign US legislators so as to introduce a measure to place a 20 percent punitive measure on purchases by Cuba in the US.

  31. 90
    Enero 10th, 2010 at 00:23

    ……….Why you have this fixation with the so-called 20% tax is beyond me. I wrote days a a clear answer to your question concerning the relationship b/n the USD and the CUC. And repeated it. What can I add?…………

    The fixation, dear Juan, is not exclusively of one or two of us but of all of us that sporadically change US for CUC ……. we know that the cuban gov. does as you do and repeat on and on that they only take 10% but in reality you go to “cadecas with 100 USD and left with only 80 CUC…… math do not lies ….. taxes are 20%……
    Dual monetary system is another way of extortion the tyranny uses to rob the cuban people….. the people and the world has no doubt of that.

    Noone unless they have more money than brains takes USD in CASH to Cuba knowing that that there is a 10% penalty on top of the usual exchage rate. That 10% does not as I have already tried to explain to you apply to Amex USD TCs.

    This is partially true…….. you can change your dollars for euros in your residence country hoping what Juan says is completely true but when you arrives to Cuba you find the exchange rates they charge are no the normal rates every businessman charges but the rates a monopoly uses to charge then you pay a tax of 10% plus other fees and at the end you are paying between 18-20% depending of the tyranny financial needs.

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