A ‘Mule’ is Punished for Trying to Send a Toy Helicopter to Cuba

On another previous occasion, Carlos had sent a remote-controlled toy helicopter to Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 31 January 2023 — One of the few consolations of Carlos (fictitious name), who left Cuba last year for Nicaragua, desperate like so many other Cubans to seek a better life in the United States, is that at least now his children and nephews, who were left on the Island, could have decent toys for birthdays or Christmas.

Carlos buys them in a department store in Miami, at the good prices allowed by competition from the free market, and sends them to Cuba through an agency. He uses Fe, located in Hialeah. He has also sent remittances for his family through that agency.

He never had any problems. In these months in the United States, he has sent, for example, probes for his father (sick with cancer in Havana), gloves for his mother, seasonings and coffee for his wife, a robot for his eldest son, and a stuffed unicorn for his little daughter. On one occasion, he even sent a remote-controlled helicopter for his son’s birthday. Barely 8 inches  long, the object was light, barely weighing 5 ounces.

The problem arose when he sent, for Three Kings Day, another one for his stepson. When inspecting the shipment, as they usually do in this type of agency, he got the first disappointment. “To begin with, this time they wanted to charge me a fee [an extra fee] for the helicopter,” Carlos tells this newspaper, and says that he reminded the employee who attended him: “How are you going to charge me a fee, if the other time I already sent a helicopter with you and I didn’t have to pay?” After claiming that he was sending a large package, and even $300 in remittances, the girl kindly agreed not to charge him the fee.

Days later, he had another surprise: “On the day the arrival of the package was scheduled, they called me from the agency to inform me that they had seized the helicopter at Cuban Customs.”

The explanation they gave to Carlos is that “the ban on the entry of drones now applies to anything that flies a little and has remote control.” Indeed, in June 2021, the Cuban government issued a law that regulated “unmanned aircraft,” with the intention of restricting the use of drones for model aircraft purposes or specific aerial work and always under the supervision of a state entity.

Carlos doesn’t understand how, on the one hand, the first helicopter did pass and, on the other, how that rule can affect a simple toy of just over 20 dollars, “which only flies for seven minutes per charge, a very short distance and at very low altitude.”

His stepson didn’t understood either and spent days crying. “I think it’s a huge lack of respect!” denounces Carlos.

The agency only had an answer for the first question: the other time they simply didn’t open the suitcase of the man to whom they sent things. “These types of agencies work with mules,” Carlos explains. “The mule sells his pounds to the agency and it resells them to the customer for 7 dollars a pound of medicine, food and toiletries and 9 dollars for the rest.”

When the man handed over the rest of the package to the family, he complained: “That helicopter caused me a tremendous mess in Customs. I’ll never bring anything that flies again!”

Carlos had the consolation that when the mule returned, the helicopter would be returned to Customs and, one day, when his family met with him in Miami, his stepson would finally have it in his hands. But that wasn’t the case. “The agents told him that Customs was equipped with cameras and were like ‘border guards.’ Not only did they not return the helicopter to the man, but they also they gave him a warning [an alert], ‘and he is marked from now on.’ In other words, every time he travels to Cuba, they will open his suitcase to check his luggage.”

Even then, the young employee who had taken care of him offered him hope: “The girl asked me for the purchase receipt, for the man to show at Customs, to see if they return the helicopter and remove the warning.” He wasn’t very optimistic: “I don’t know why, but it seems to me that that toy already has an owner in Cuba.”

There was still one last episode, weeks later, with the owner of the agency, who called him a few days ago about the bad outcome, to inform him that he had fired the employee.

“For a moment I thought I had returned to Cuba and was talking to an Etecsa* official, who thinks you are a servant instead of a client,” says Carlos, who conveyed his surprise at the firing of the girl. “That’s my problem, not yours!” the lady screamed at him.

In the middle of the harsh words and the untimely treatment, Carlos knew what really happened at Customs: “The woman told me that the man at Customs, when he went to get the helicopter back, they asked him for money, a tax in dollars, but he refused to pay it, and then they said that the helicopter had lights and a camera and was a coastguard.” Definitely, the innocent toy had found an owner other than his stepson, who still angrily remembers the Three Kings’ gift that he did not receive.

*Translator’s note: Etecsa is the Cuban state telecommunications company, and is notoriously difficult to deal with.

Translated by Regina Anavy 


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