How Cuba’s State Security Welcomed Me on Returning to Havana

Isbel Diaz

Terminal 2 of the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana.
Terminal 2 of the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana.

HAVANA TIMES – After participating in the congress of the Association of Latin American Studies in Chicago, I returned home to Cuba this past June 20th, following a one-month stay in the United States. I arrived at terminal 2 of Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport to be received by Cuban State Security agents. Customs officers then proceeded to take away my cell phone and other belongings.

I was detained at the airport for three hours and all of my personal belongings were meticulously inspected. The officials were chiefly interested in all of the documents I carried with me and all electronic devices that could store information.

As such, in addition to my phone (which stored all of my personal contacts and private notes), two external hard disks and their cables, two cell phones I had brought my nephew and my boyfriend as gifts and an SD memory with family videos were confiscated, even though the authorities didn’t know what their contents were and didn’t even take the trouble of asking.

All of these devices were classified as items for personal use by the customs authorities themselves – the number of items didn’t exceed the limit established by Resolution 320 / 2011, which establishes what imports are of a commercial nature, nor did their respective prices surpass the limits established in the Value List published under Resolution 312 / 2011.

It is therefore quite evident that these confiscations are the result of the arbitrariness and excessive monitoring that all Cubans with free-thinking postures that are critical of the country’s socio-political reality are subjected to.

The fact that Lt. Colonel Omar, a well-known State Security officer, came in and out of the premises, reveals that the reasons behind this incident are clearly political.

I was given absolutely no explanation as to why my belongings were being confiscated. I was only referred to the customs resolution that empowers these officials to retain what they see fit. The contents and scope of the said resolution were not explained to me either.

What was explained to me were the reasons they confiscated several of the documents I carried with me. According to the Confiscation and Notification document, they “tarnish the country’s morals and customs.” The documents in question were:

–          Historian Frank Fernandez’ classic El anarquismo en Cuba (“Anarchism in Cuba”), a book the author had sent to the Cuban Anthropology Institute (as the dedication he had handwritten attested to). Fernandez had learned that a group was studying the issue at the institute and he wanted to contribute to the work with his research on Cuba’s workers’ and anarcho-syndicalist movements.

–          The open letter dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua had addressed to the Association of Latin American Studies, to which all Cubans who participated in this year’s LASA congress had access.

–          A page from a New Herald newspaper with part of an article dealing with the LGBTI community on the island and showing a photograph of the Day Against Homophobia activities organized every year by Cuba’s National Sexual Education Center headed by Mariela Castro. By chance, the page also showed a photo of dissident Yoani Sanchez. This immediately piqued the interest of the customs official, who labeled the document “anti-Cuban propaganda” without having read the article.

The only item that could in any way be construed as an affront on Cuban morals and customs is the photo of the Day Against Homophobia activities, which shows several people wearing colorful feathers singing on a Cuban stage. This homophobic posture must be condemned by our community on the island.

I publicly denounce this violation of my rights and abuse of power before the international community, and know that I will demand the immediate return of my cell phone and the rest of my belongings, all acquired legally.

I am not the first person who suffers this type of violence and I will probably not be the last, not while the Cuban political police continue to enjoy the prerogatives and privileges they do now.

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.

17 thoughts on “How Cuba’s State Security Welcomed Me on Returning to Havana

  • June 25, 2014 at 9:37 am
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    Is there anyone, other than Cubans who have returned home to Cuba, who has ever experienced the confiscation of a BOOK because of the subject matter? A newspaper? I simply can’t imagine US Customs doing this. Anything is possible, anywhere but every once in a while, the writers here at Havana Times share personal experiences that should remind readers as to why the Castros are the poster boys for tyranny and repression.

    Reply
  • June 25, 2014 at 10:14 am
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    the authorities need to wake up to the needs of the cuban people.

    Reply
  • June 25, 2014 at 11:21 am
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    Totalitarian is as totalitarian does.
    The bureaucracy is doing what bureaucracies do .
    The solution is democracy.
    No electorate in a functioning democracy would permit such totalitarian bullshit.
    Look how easy it is to go through customs
    in the USA when returning from Cuba or anyplace else.

    Reply
    • June 26, 2014 at 7:32 pm
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      Note Mr. Goodrich that anarchism is not acceptable to the Castro regime, but is tolerated in democratic countries. You are fortunate to live in a free society.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2014 at 1:46 pm
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    Given the choice again, would you want to return to Cuba?

    Reply
    • July 13, 2014 at 7:34 am
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      He wasn’t surprised by the behavior of the customs agents. So the answer is, yes.

      Reply
  • June 26, 2014 at 3:28 am
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    Fidel Castro proclaimed at the 1998 Havana International Book Fair,
    “There are no banned books in Cuba, only the lack of funds to purchase
    them.”

    Another propaganda lie exposed.

    Reply
  • July 2, 2014 at 9:42 pm
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    Well agent Moses, you are wrong again. I know of people who have had literature confiscated by the US customs and it wasn’t pornographic material but political in nature. I also know people who were refused entry into the US because they had worked in Cuba. So much for so called democracy.

    Reply
    • July 3, 2014 at 6:22 am
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      The proverbial “I know people…”. I don’t believe you. I have never heard of anyone in the US having political literature confiscated. If indeed it has happened, it would have been front page news. As far as being refused entry, that is nothing new. Given the wackos out there wish to do harm to innocent people, I support border control. However, I do not believe you that an AMERICAN was refused re-entry to the US because they worked in Cuba. On both of these issues, please cite your source. Tell the truth, shame the devil.

      Reply
      • July 3, 2014 at 9:08 am
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        Well agent Moses I have a family member that was refused entry for working in Cuba and after pleading forgiveness from Congress along with payment of a substancial fee finaly was permitted to enter again. I also have a friend that had left wing literature confiscated at the US border coming in from Canada. I was also on a return flight from Santiago Cuba to Montreal that had damaged it’s landing gear on landing in Santiago, The pilot had to fly at low altitude as he couldn’t retract it. he requested an emergency landing in Miami but was refused because the plane was coming from Cuba and we had to turn back and land in Veradero with very little emergency equipment at this airport. Luckily we landed safely but the plane was grounded as it had a steel pin sheared off in the landing gear. Maybee, just maybee we don’t get all the news from the media as you seem to think we do. We are not talking about wackos here but ordinary people who want to do harm to nobody.

        Reply
        • July 3, 2014 at 9:57 am
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          Your family member broke the law under the “Trading with the Enemy Act”. Nonetheless, they were allowed reentry after just paying a fine. If this family member was not a US citizen and living in the US on a green card, working in Cuba put their immigration status at risk. The fact they were allowed reentry is a credit to the leniency of the US immigration system. Cuba has, until recently, historically denied natural born Cubans reentry simply because they left Cuba illegally. If your family member was a citizen, their reentry was never the issue. Just paying a fine and avoiding prosecution however was a fortunate outcome. Your confiscated literature story is harder to believe but almost anything is possible I guess. Finally the landing gear story is weird. Until international law, an aircraft in distress can not be denied landing rights. The FAA agent-in-charge must have assessed the mechanical difficulty the plane was having as a less than immediate threat to the safety of the passengers. Go figure.

          Reply
          • July 3, 2014 at 6:28 pm
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            The family member did not break the law as “trading with the enemy act” has no reference to working in a forein country but only with corperations etc. doing buisiness with an enemy. The confiscation of literature is a fact even though you may not believe it.
            I’m sure the FAA agent could asses the mechanical dificulty of the plane by remote control or intuition and deny landing for a plane in distress as requested by the pilot of a Canadian based aircraft from a so called ally.

          • July 4, 2014 at 9:06 am
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            Not true.Title 12, Ch.2 U.S. Code § 95a ….by any PERSON, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States;

          • July 13, 2014 at 7:32 am
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            Agent Moses, you’re not fooling anyone here.

          • July 13, 2014 at 7:59 am
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            Why must the expression of my clearly anti-Castro, pro-Cuban views be a result of some government-sponsored agenda? You simple-minded Castro-apologists see the world as black and white. Castro has screwed your brains up so much that you can’t imagine someone who disagrees with you just because I want to.

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    do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, quite great post.

    Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 3:14 pm
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    Great web site you have here.. It’s hard to find high quality writing like yours these days.
    I really appreciate people like you! Take care!!

    Reply

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