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Is OFAC helping Cuba fight fake cigars?

It's ironic but true: New federal regulations that prohibit U.S. travelers from returning from Cuba with cigars may actually end up helping the Castro regime in its attempt to stop the illegal sale of counterfeit stogies.

In an article published last month in the Orlando Sentinel, University of Florida academic Paolo Spadoni points out that since October 2003, any traveler leaving Cuba with more than 23 loose cigars (or a box of 25 cigars) in his or her possession must show a receipt that corresponds with the holographic seal on one side of the box.

This makes it harder for anyone to leave Cuba with illegal Cohibas or Montecristos that cost a fraction of the price of the real deal.

For years, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control allowed those returning from Cuba to bring up to $100 worth of cigars, rum and other goods in their carry-on or accompanied baggage.

But because two boxes of authentic habanos would have exceeded that limit, many U.S. travelers bought fake cigars from Havana street vendors, thereby saving money and avoiding potential fines.

Since tough new laws went into effect in August, however, U.S. citizens can't buy anything at all while in Cuba, except for publications, films and other informational materials that have traditionally been exempted by the embargo. In fact, OFAC specifically states that there's now "an across-the-board ban on the importation into the United States of Cuban-origin cigars and other Cuban-origin tobacco products."

All that ban does is "deliver a further blow to the huge informal network of cigar retailers in the island who are committed to sell their products to foreign visitors and find ways to deal with stumbling blocks created by Cuban customs," writes Spadoni, a Ph.D. candidate at UF's Department of Political Science.

"The presence of U.S. citizens in the Cuban tourist market has become increasingly important in the past decade. Under the current situation, however, there is very little incentive for American travelers to buy counterfeit cigars from illegal vendors in Havana and bring them home as they must be able to evade both Cuban and U.S. custom controls. In short, there is now a U.S. ban not only on authentic habanos but also on fake ones."

As a result, Spadoni says, "Bush's latest restrictions on imported Cuban cigars will provide an invaluable support for Castro's war on fake habanos while affecting street sellers on the island who are trying to earn a few dollars to satisfy their basic needs and support their families."

Details: Paolo Spadoni, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611. Tel: (352) 375-3355 or (352) 284-2326.
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Title Annotation:Office of Foreign Assets Control
Publication:CubaNews
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:441
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