Cuban Customs Threatens to Seize Goods Brought by ‘Mules’ from the U.S.

An official of the General Customs of the Republic checks the belongings of the passengers at the airport in Havana. (Customs)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 6 June 2018 — The General Customs of the Republic of Cuba threatened on Wednesday to confiscate packages sent from the United States through ‘mules’ (people who travel specifically to the island to carry merchandise) who serve shipping agencies based in the U.S..

The practice of sending goods  through agencies, which Havana considers “illegal,” has grown rapidly in South Florida as a result of the flexibilization in relations with Cuba initiated by former President Barack Obama.

José Luis Muñoz Toca, director of Technical Customs, said at a press conference that more than three tons of various products that were being brought into the country through the shipping networks were seized. So far there are four complaints of contraband associated with this phenomenon, Muñoz said, although the nationality of those involved has not been determined. So far this year the authorities have detected “113 cases of trafficked merchandise.”

Muñoz Toca said that 29 agencies based in the United States have been identified that operate “in an unauthorized manner” to send goods to Cuba “through travelers who agree to bring them in exchange for payment or compensation.”

For his part, the Deputy Chief of Customs, Wiliam Pérez González, justified the proscription against shipments because such agencies “have no official contract with the Cuban companies authorized to carry out these operations.”

Pérez González acknowledged the existence of corruption on the island with regards to packages carried by travelers. He also emphasized the warnings the agency gives to the travelers who carry the goods; even when they do not know the contents of the shipments, they take them to the island. “They may be engaged in drug trafficking or bringing other illicit materials,” he said.

Among the South Florida agencies that General Customs mentioned as a priority for their punitive actions are XAEL Habana, Va Cuba, Cubamax Travel, Viajes Coppelia, Habana Air, Blue Cuba Travels and Central America Cargo. Recently Customs updated the list of agencies it allows to send parcels to the Island.

When dealing with items sent to third parties through agencies, “their import becomes commercial,” the authorities explained, so the contents of the suitcases may be “subject to the administrative sanction of confiscation, if there is no more serious crime.”

The Cuban Diaspora uses the service of parcel delivery agencies to the Island to alleviate the shortages their relatives in Cuba experience.

According to Emilio Morales, director of the The Havana Consulting Group, based in Miami, about 90% of the shipments that arrive on the island come from the United States. The value of the goods sent to Cuba last year was in the order of three billion dollars, Morales told 14ymedio.

The measure is seen as a turn of the screw to regulate the growing black market. In Cuba, where most of the stores belong to the State and the economy is still regulated by the powers-that-be, shortages are endemic. Basic items such as toothpaste, sanitary pads or multivitamins disappear from the markets for weeks, forcing many people to buy them on the black market.

The incipient private sector on the Island also demands supplies that can not be purchased in wholesale stores and resorts to shipments as a way to ensure provisions to maintain paladares (private restaurants), tourist accommodations and small coffee shops scattered throughout the country.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.