Cuba Customs Returns my Confiscated Belongings

Isbel Diaz Torres

Cuban customs employee.  Photo: cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES – This past Tuesday, well before the established waiting time of one month had elapsed, I went to Terminal 2 of Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport to demand the return of my belongings, arbitrarily confiscated days before following my arrival from the United States, where I had taken part in the LASA Conference.

Waiting for more than two hours there was ultimately worth my while, for all of the electronic devices they had confiscated were returned to me (after their contents were inspected).

Coincidentally, the US Supreme Court has just ruled that the police will require a court order to inspect the contents of the cell phones owned by those arrested, and this ruling is likely to be applied to other electronic devices, such as portable computers.

If this is to apply to people who have been detained by authorities, I imagine the protection afforded to those who have committed no crimes will be greater still. I wonder what Cuba’s political police, accustomed to doing and undoing things as it pleases, think of this. What will our politicians, who sing praises to Cuba’s “intangible” democracy, say of this?

Of course, I am not so naive as to believe that this protective measure, announced by the US media, will be all-encompassing or that it will always be respected. US authorities have violated the rights of their citizens (and those of other countries, including presidents) on more than one occasion. They are the leaders in espionage.

Nevertheless, the important thing here is the existence of legal instruments designed to protect individuals, tools with which one can use in a lawful process, or that can serve as a point of departure for demanding one’s rights.

As we know, Cuban authorities do not respect the privacy of regular or electronic mail. They tap the phones of people who are of interest to them, even when these have committed – and probably will not commit – any crimes. They openly record the activities of people and groups and engage in other similar activities.

I know these practices aren’t novel anywhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean we should stand by and allow governments to stick their noses in our private lives. We should condemn this when the USA spies on Brazilian politicians or when the Cuban government is guilty of the same thing with LGBT activists.

Cuba can invoke the valid argument that it is besieged by the greatest military power in history, a country that huge sums to destabilize the island from within and without.

But this argument becomes vacuous when it is used, day after day, to justify all of the abuses of Cuba’s security forces, in connection with activities that aren’t remotely linked to the subversive plans of the US government.

Without a doubt, this reveals the vulnerability of Cuba’s political system, which has been losing its legitimacy in a process that has been progressively unfolding over the past few decades.

As for me, I have not yet exhausted my demands. I submitted a “complaint” (this is the term employed by the customs bureaucracy, even though my tone was not one of complaint at any moment – I merely demanded my rights) in connection with the fact I was given no explanation as to why my cell phone was rudely taken from me, and with other facts that have yet to be clarified.

As for the “confiscated” documents, I will have to go back a different day to get an official answer on that matter, because that particular process isn’t handled in the same place.

I am dying to find out whether they will acknowledge their institutionalized homophobia, evident in the argument that the contents of my documents “tarnished the country’s morals and customs.”

I thank everyone for following this situation, which may not have the shock-value of other Internet news, but which has been painful and humiliating for me.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

4 thoughts on “Cuba Customs Returns my Confiscated Belongings

  • Well done Isbel

  • It is telling that you fail to see the uniqueness of Cuban “bureaucracy”. In none of the other countries you named would your books be confiscated. You could enter the US with a book titled “Obama is a (insert unflattering term) and you would pass through unmolested. Try getting into Cuba with a book titled “Fidel is an addle-brained diaper-wearing despot”.

  • Bureaucracy, especially at border crossings, is a world-wide problem. The worst examples I have seen are the U.S., Honduran, and Guatemalan borders. Jose Marti Airport, though way down my list as a problem, is not an exception. The most common complaints I’ve heard from Cubans about anything connected to their government has always been about unnecessary bureaucracy, but very few Cubans I’ve met have managed to twist a complaint about bureaucracy into an indictment of socialism, as you and the only other comment I see here very unreasonably manage to do. -iammyownreporter.com

  • I made the misake of taking a two ring electric grill to Cuba, entering tthrough Juan Gomez Airport. I did so, because we sometimes run out of gas at home in Cuba and only have a one ring grill. I was told that I would have to pay a percentage of the value of the grill plus a daily storage charge upon leaving Cuba when I would be able to reclaim the grill. As I was going to be at home there for a prolonged period, the charges totalled more than the value oif the grill. The confiscation did not save any electrcity use, and the grill is either still in store or (preferably) being used by a member of the Aduana. Such petty regulation is typical of the rules under which Cuba operates and only serve to make it a laughing stock in the outside world. So Isbel, don’t feel humiliated, just have a laugh at the stupidity of Castro Socialismo.

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