as well as hygiene products
HAVANA TIMES – The unlimited importation of food, hygiene products and medicines by individual travelers is extended for another half year in Cuba. The measure was approved last July, just three days after the outbreak of the anti-government protests of 11J (11 July) and was scheduled to expire on December 31, but it is extended until June 30, 2022 for the time being, as confirmed by Cuban Customs last Wednesday.
The regulation provides for non-commercial importation “with no import value limit and free of payment of tariffs” and, according to the authorities, “has had a favorable impact on the population and passengers who arrived in the country.”
However, the amount a traveler can bring into the country is often affected by baggage limits placed by the airlines, often at two suitcases.
The shortage of food, hygiene products and medicines, although chronic in Cuba, visibly worsened starting in 2020, when the pandemic forced border closures around the world. Until then, the market was informally nourished by ’mules’ who traveled to countries such as Panama or Mexico to stock up on these items, which were difficult to find in Cuba, and who resold them upon arrival.
Cuba produces only 20 to 40% of the population’s basic food needs and the government no longer has the funds to import the other 60-80%, thus the severe shortages and long lines. Likewise, the most basic over-the-counter medicines in other countries, like aspirin, are scarce on the island, often only available on the illicit market.
The existence of this parallel market from travelers was an escape valve for the population that, despite being forced to pay sometimes exhorbitant prices, was able to find products which were difficult, if not impossible, to find in state stores, even those taking payment only in foreign currency. The cancellation of flights and limitations on mobility left the population largely unsupplied and that frustration coupled with the lack of freedom, caused thousands of people to take to the streets on July 11.
The government’s response was to authorize these tax-exempt imports “on an exceptional basis” and as separate cargo from luggage, but nothing has improved since then despite the fact that the borders have been reopening.
According to the Government, the extension is due to the impact of the covid-19, but also, and looking ahead, to the fact that “the persistent limitations in the supply of these products is motivated, among other causes, by the intensification of the economic, commercial and financial blockade of the Government of the United States.”
[The government also blames its declining food production on the US instead of failed homegrown agricultural policies.]
Customs also reported that the tariff benefits related to the importation by state businesses and other entities of the same products and, also, of the inputs or raw materials that they bring to sell to private businesses, are extended until the same date of the end of June.