On September 1, 2014 the Customs Service of the Republic of Cuba will begin enforcing new regulations intended to combat illegal trafficking of merchandise by relatives, friends and “mules”* through airports and port facilities.
It’s one more turn of the screw. Every year since 2011 new regulations have been put in place designed to halt the illegal importation of goods destined for families and private businesses on the island.
In Spring 2012 the customs service began charging ten dollars for every kilo above the twenty-kilo limit for personal baggage. For parcel post the charge was ten dollars per kilo above the five-kilo limit.
According to Onelia, a customs official, “The new measures are intended to halt the trade in goods brought in by mules.”
The military regime quite often resorts to demagogic rhetoric. It eschews the military uniform and takes on the role of victim when talking about the economic and financial embargo that the United States has imposed on Cuba since 1962.
But the embargo does not justify establishing a string of regulations that affect family well-being, private businesses and the quality of life for a wide segment of the population.
Simply put, they are applying a set of prohibitions and laws in order increase sales in the chain of hard-currency stores operated as military businesses. It is a disgrace.
It is monopoly in its purest form. The government would now find itself hard pressed to explain how these measures are benefitting its citizens. Its aberrant customs rules, prohibitions on retail sales of imported clothing and high taxes on the self-employed are anti-populist edicts.
I asked twenty-eight people — friends, neighbors, taxi drivers, public and private sector workers — if they approved of these regulations. Regardless of their political beliefs, the verdict was unanimous: all twenty-eight were opposed to the current measures as well as to those scheduled to take effect on September 1.
Some 80% of Cubans have a relative or friend in the United States or Europe. Some benefit from regular shipments of clothes, food, appliances, video games, computer tablets or smart phones. Others receive occasional shipments.
But it is black market commerce, driven scarcity and a system of economic production that does not satisfy demand, the most important provider of the things people need.
HP laptops, plasma-screen TVs, instant soups and even major league baseball hats arrive on the island from Miami, as do Russian car parts and cloned satellite TV cards, which are banned by the Cuban government.
What businessmen, politicians and exiles living in the United States do not mention when expressing support for relaxing or repealing the embargo is the regime’s obsession with controlling our private lives.
We must navigate an internet packed with filters, watch TV channels that the government authorizes, read books over which the mullahs of censorship pass judgment and pay extortionist prices for cell phone service.
We should be talking more often about the internal blockade the government imposes on its citizens.
Is it legal for a nation to stifle illegal commerce? Yes, it is. But before punishing people, it should provide by offering range of products and prices for the domestic market, living wages and efficient services.
This is not the case in Cuba. State workers earn around twenty dollars a month. The “basic basket” of goods that a ration book covers barely lasts ten days. Putting two meals a day on the table is a luxury in many homes.
The State has become an insatiable overseer. It owns industries that provide us with overpriced mayonnaise, canned tuna and queso blanco.
At no meeting of the boring and monotonous National Assembly did I hear any delegate demand that the state set fair prices. Food prices in Cuban hard currency stores are higher than those in New York.
The price of flat-screen TV or a computer is two and a half times what it is in Miami. Tiles and bathroom fixtures are five times as expensive. And a Peugeot 508 sells for an exorbitant price, comparable to that of a Ferrari.
Thanks to mules, relatives in Florida send us everything from powdered milk to sanitary pads because the state cannot satisfy the monthly demand of women or offer such products for sale at affordable prices.
This is what it’s about. The new measures attempting to stop trafficking by mules are intended to benefit state enterprises and businesses, and to increase their sales, though what becomes of the profits is never revealed.
They are only hampering the transfer of small ticket items, however, not of dollars. Greenbacks are still welcome. The more, the merrier.
Before the Obama administration relaxes that relic of the Cold War called the embargo, those speaking on behalf of the Cuban people should ask Raul Castro for greater freedom and economic independence for his citizens.
And don’t get me started on the denial of political rights. That’s another story.
Photo: From Univision Colorado.
*Translator’s note: Slang term for couriers of goods from overseas.
18 July 2014