Cuba restricts inflow of foreign-bought products

Updated: 2014-09-02 07:39

By Associated Press in Havana(China Daily)

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Authorities: Rules to curb 'mules' from importing goods for black market

Cubans braced on Monday for a clampdown on the flow of car tires, flat-screen televisions, bluejeans and shampoo in the bags of travelers who haul eye-popping amounts of foreign-bought merchandise to the country, where consumer goods are scarce and expensive.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Cuban-Americans fly to and from the island each year thanks to the easing of travel restrictions by the US and Cuban governments over the last five years.

But Cuba-bound checked baggage has become an airlift of sorts that moves nearly 2 billion of products ranging from razor blades to rice cookers.

The baggage carousels at Cuba's airports often look as though they're disgorging the contents of an entire Wal-Mart or Target store.

Many family members bring special trailers to carry the bags of their returning relatives, which can weigh hundreds of pounds and include items such as bicycles and flat-screen TVs.

Now the pipeline may be narrowed considerably. The Cuban government's new rules, which take effect on Monday, are designed to take a big bite of that traffic, sharply limiting the amount of goods people can bring into Cuba in their luggage or ship by boat from abroad.

The government says the restrictions are meant to curb abuses that have turned air travel, in particular, into a way for professional "mules" to illegally import supplies for both black-market businesses and legal private enterprises that are supposed to buy supplies from the state.

Among ordinary Cubans, reactions have ranged from worry to outrage that their primary, and for many only, source of high-quality consumer goods may be throttled.

The rules give a sense of the quantity and diversity of the commercial goods arriving in checked bags. Travelers will now be allowed to bring in one set of hand tools instead of two; and 24 bras instead of 48.

Four car tires are still permitted, as are two pieces of baby furniture and two flat-screen televisions.

Cuban customs also bars passengers from bringing in items worth more than 1,000.

The new rules similarly increase the duties paid on goods shipped from abroad, another major source of foreign merchandise for the island.

The authorities have assured Cubans that the vast majority of travelers won't be affected.

The change is intended "to keep certain people from using current rules on noncommercial imports to bring into the country high volumes of goods that are destined for commercial sale and profit", Idalmis Rosales Milanes, deputy chief of Cuban customs, told Granma, the newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, in Friday editions.

The government has justified the new rules with examples of prolific mules, including one passenger who, it said, brought in 41 computer monitors and 66 flat-screen TVs in a year.