The new customs regulations, which took effect on September 3, will require the Cuban people to pay a progressive tax of 10 CUC– or 240 pesos at the current exchange rate– for each kilogram of “miscellaneous items,” including food, and between 100% and 200% of the value of any household electrical appliance or other hardware received from overseas.
We should be accustomed by now to such measures, which are considered trivialities by those who issue them, but are felt as tremendous hardships by those who must suffer because of them. This time the new regulations appear a little more than a month after Raúl Castro’s public announcement that he would not raise salaries. This follows the massive rise in the official price of consumer goods, the approval by the trade unions of the dismissal of hundreds of thousands of workers, the exorbitant increase in the price of electricity just as liquid gas service was cut off, the elimination of “gratuities” for workers, the decision to retain workers in the medical sector who want to travel overseas, and a long list of other issues.
All these decisions have something in common. They are completely at odds with the interests and well-being of the people. Issued by officials who lack absolutely nothing, these measures would appear to have been come from the very offices of the CIA itself. If their purpose is to foment discontent, complicate our lives and arouse hostility and resentment towards those who issue and/or allow them to take effect, then they have been completely successful.
Now, the elderly woman who receives a package will have to pay an extortionist’s fee to retrieve it from customs. This means she will have to pay more than twice what it cost her son to buy and send it. There will be no way to persuade either of them, and by extension the Cuban people, that this is not a blatant shake-down cooked up by customs authorities, or that the government has even the most minimal concern for their well-being. After this apparent armed robbery– there is no other way to describe it– every word or pronouncement will feel like salt and vinegar being poured into a wound.
Aimed at a people who are suffering from inconceivable shortages, these measures are suspiciously in sync with the interests of the corrupt leadership of the Cuban customs service. It is a secret to no one that, when the screw is tightened, the pathway to robbery, blackmail, bribery and extortion becomes easier, enriching these officials who, with rare and honorable exceptions, will be millionaires within a few years. History provides thousands of such examples.
The stated rationale–- that similar measures have been effective in preventing smugglers from supplying the black market–- falls apart in light of factual evidence. Smugglers will undoubtedly continue their operations because they already have contacts with corrupt officials within the customs service, which issues guidelines to make sure it gets its slice of the pie. To presume that this will dry up supplies to the black market is like grabbing the wrong end of the stick. To achieve this would require setting reasonable prices in government-run hard-currency stores and eliminating their expensive yet shoddy products and poor quality goods. To deal with those who break the law, there are already existing legal means and the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT). Its team of inspectors, along with inspectors from other agencies, should confront the situation by making the sinners pay up rather than dealing with it in a generalized way, as is the case now.
It is measures such as these that indicate that we are completely unimportant to them. It is one more coup de grace aimed at the back of the neck of the people, their sole victim. This causes no harm to Obama, nor to the extremist oddballs in Miami. Nor does it have any relationship to the American embargo, nor to anything else that is not in tune with the purposeful desires of customs authorities, who are in open collusion with the country’s leadership, which allows this to go on, making out lives more difficult every day. There is no stone left to unturned. This is simply a premeditated attack and a deliberate blow by the diseased hand of the Cuban government.
September 17 2012