Isbel Diaz Torres

Cuban Customs at the airport.

HAVANA TIMES – “Let us try and save Cuban Customs,” the island’s official press appears to be saying without the slightest bit of subtlety, for, in recent months, it has covered just about everything this institution is doing, to make it look very busy.

Following the public’s negative reaction to the unpopular measures adopted by Customs to restrict the import of goods by travellers even more, journalists seem to have been “instructed” to enlighten Cubans as to how good and necessary this entity is.

Last week, the Customs checkpoint at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport detected a package containing 0.94 kilograms of cocaine chlorhydrate in powder form which had arrived from South America, and the incident was reported on.

According to the information published at the Customs web-site and Prensa Latina newspaper, the substance had been hidden in the battery of a Kingsong-brand speaker inside the checked luggage of a traveler whose name was not revealed.

The offender alleged he was unaware of the contents of the luggage, as he had merely “sold part of his luggage allotment in pounds” owing to his “tight economic situation”. He is currently facing criminal proceedings before Cuban courts.

What’s curious about this piece of news is that we are dealing with less than1 kilogram of cocaine, a ludicrously small quantity at any airport in the world, including a Cuban one.

In 2012, 40 attempts to smuggle drugs into the country were detected by Cuban Customs, and a mere 39.5 kilograms of narcotics were confiscated in the entire year. In 2013, a total of 43 such attempts were frustrated by Customs, but the official figures published by Prensa Latina did not mention the volume of drugs confiscated.

On September 1 this year, Cuba’s major official newspaper, Granma, published another report about Customs operations at Terminal 2 of the Jose Marti Airport.

The journalist himself had to acknowledge, from the word go, that “perhaps this assessment is premature, bearing in mind the short time that has elapsed since the implementation” of the new regulations (put into effect that same day). Because Customs had been discredited, however, they had to let everyone know things were running smoothly without the slightest delay.

Before that, on May 5 of this year, Cubadebate referred to the case of a passenger that had stolen money from another traveler, reporting that, thanks “to the prompt and professional response by Customs and its officials” (who used the airport cameras to solve the case), the thief was captured.

The headline didn’t refer to the theft directly. It read: “Customs Thwarts Theft Attempt at the Jose Marti International Airport.” Since then, reports of “heroism at Customs” have been oddly systematic.

There is an abundance of examples in which Customs officials make it to the inaccessible pages of Cuba’s official press merely for doing their jobs.

It is clear those steering the “updating” process in Cuba, or Customs, need not fear anything – they have a loyal press that will bail them out time and time again before international public opinion (and only that, because the only place Cubans use the Granma newspaper is in the bathroom).

What’s more, when our relatives have something taken away from them at the airport the entire neighborhood finds out immediately, even if it’s not reported by the newspapers.


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.

One thought on “Saving Cuban Customs

  • I totally support the Cuban Customs in making every effort to detect drugs and to prosecute those carrying them. Drug trafficking and drug use causes the destruction of human lives leading to misery and is a blight on any society irrespective of politics.
    I have had my difficulties with the Customs in Cuba, but they are necessary. The Customs do not make the regulations, their duty is to apply them.
    39.5 kgs of narcotics have a street value of millions of dollars.

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