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The Impact of Cuba’s New Customs Regs

The Impact of Cuba's New Customs Regs

September 19, 2012

Alberto N. Jones

HAVANA TIMES — Official statements describe the Cuban Customs Office as

"the country's first line of defense, responsible for preventing the

entry of harmful materials," while at the same time it "allows and

encourages the free flow of trade and development between countries." It

seems that reconciling these two apparently antagonistic functions isn't

an easy task.

The severe shortages in Cuba over many years are a direct and exclusive

responsibility of the entities responsible for the acquisition,

distribution and sale of products to the public.

These entities, I believe, haven't taken on their role with the due

seriousness and responsibility that the people deserve. They have abused

the revolutionary sentiments of the masses, who have expressed these

feelings for decades by accepting — in silence — everything from gross

ineptitude to poorly targeted annual production plans.

The devastation caused by several hurricanes in 2008 severely aggravated

the shortages in the country, prompting Customs and other agencies to

relax the regulations in place at that time. This led to the importing

of millions of tons of food, personal items, various types of supplies,

durable goods, medicine, medical supplies and others items, alleviating

what was for skeptics and doomsayers was an irreversible and terminal

situation.

Those circumstances touched the hearts of thousands of Cubans living

abroad, who up until then had ignored their relatives in Cuba and had

sworn never to return home. Given the devastation and human suffering

that threatened to devour the country, these individuals put the

interests of their families and the nation ahead of their personal

feelings, which was clearly expressed in the more than 400,000

Cuban-American visitors to Cuba last year.

Prior to this, the Customs Office had for years terrorized Cuban

travelers, confiscating their goods and applying onerous duties. This

was the major cause of anxiety, hypertension and stress for those

visiting the country, especially among the elderly.

In 2008, however, this hostile position changed. Exemptions were made on

duties applied to food and medicine, which resulted in our relatives,

friends and neighbors in Cuba seeing their rations supplemented with

products and medicines that were non-existent in the country. This

mitigated their needs, relieved the suffering of others, and helped to

rebuild family ties and love for the country, which had been affected as

a result of long-term separations.

Opportunists of all stripes, as well as many honest people (especially

seniors on fixed incomes, the unemployed, students trying to supplement

their college stipends, and people with no other recourse for visiting

loved ones abroad), became "mules" or smugglers, bringing into the

country huge amounts of material goods without paying the proper duties.

In the process, many officials became corrupted by bribes and the

country's treasury lost millions of dollars.

How can we explain why such a vice that was so loudly criticized was not

corrected, modified or adapted to the interests of all parties?

The solution found recently was the cruel, unexpected and devastating

blow against defenseless victims, among them the elderly, children and

medical patients – people who were deprived of food, medicine and vital

medical equipment.

Why throw out the baby (needed goods) with the bath water (corruption)?

Many countries, even ones whose markets have all the material resources

that their populations require, have import duties that are graduated

according to the types of items, whether basic items, food and personal

articles or durable and luxury goods. These countries don't punish

themselves by preventing the importation of specific products to any of

their citizens.

Just like in the rest of the Third World, most Caribbean countries

maintain extensive systems of sea and air deliveries of parcels from

residents of First World countries to their families in their countries

of origin.

What are typical are strong family/cultural bonds in our region.

Jamaica, Dominica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Haiti, the

Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico and others are served by dozens of

shipping companies dedicated solely to this specialized service. They

accept and make door-to-door deliveries of millions of tons in products

that provide relief, are vital transfusions for millions of impoverished

people, and that strengthen perennial moral and emotional ties.

In the 1980's, the Cuban government charged the astronomical sum of $30

a pound for personal items. This was gradually decreased to $10 per

pound for personal items and $6 per pound for food and medicine.

Although this service continues to be the most expensive in the world,

it has led to a proliferation of agencies and massive shipments of

products to our family members and friends in Cuba. We have also seen

the first direct shipping service between the two countries in half a

century being born, which could now suffer a miscarriage with the new

regulations just put in force.

If, like in other countries in the region, Cuba's Customs Office applied

a procedure that is rational, logical, humane and consistent with the

needs and suffering of our people, think how much more food and supplies

would enter the country, further mitigating the existing social problems

while at least tripling the current imports and increasing the number of

travelers and remittances.

Although the distance between the Dominican Republic and Miami is twice

that between Miami and Santiago de Cuba, their parcel transport

companies pick-up and make door-to-door deliveries of packages

containing up to 70 pounds for $55 to $65, depending on the recipient's

address. The cost the same parcel sent to Cuba would be $700!

How can we assume that the severe economic crisis that's afflicting and

neutralizing development in Cuba, which will require hundreds of

billions of dollars to put it back on its feet, can be countered with

the existing scandalous 250 percent tax placed on the limited and

unstable availability of products sold in CUCs or by this latest

irrational customs tariff increase, while huge potential economic

resources languish and remain ignored across the country?

But much more serious would be the indelible stain made by the new

customs regulations, stigmatizing the history of Cuba with an action

comparable to the brutal measures of the embargo, OFAC [the US Treasury

Department's Office of Foreign Office Control], and the

embargo-strengthening Torricelli and Helms-Burton Acts.

http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=78838 Tags: customs, embargo, food, gross, medicines, transport

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