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Cigar 101: Understanding the Embargo

I’ve heard it all over the place—forums, conversations, even some “news” articles—it seems like a lot of people don’t have their facts straight about the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Some people think it’s legal to get Cuban cigars from Canada or Mexico; others think it’s okay as long as it’s under two boxes, or just a few sticks. The bottom line is this: it is 100 percent illegal to bring Cuban products into the U.S., regardless of where you got them from. It’s even illegal to use Cuban products out of the country, believe it or not. I’m not sure where the misinformation about quantity is coming from, but I’m here to put a stop to it.

I’ll start with how the embargo began—the embargo was originally enacted in the late 50’s strictly as an arms embargo, in order to quell the fighting between rebels and the Fulgencico Batista government. After the Cuban government began seizing private property and openly sided with the U.S.S.R., and after the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the U.S. intercepted ships that were carrying weapons of mass destruction to Cuba, the embargo was extended to ban U.S. importation of all products from Cuba.

Years later, the Cold War is over—it has been since 1991. We’re now trading with the former U.S.S.R., but for some reason, we can’t extend that kind of handshake to Cuba. It seems like the rest of the world has as much trouble understanding it as I do—the U.N. has denounced the U.S. embargo against Cuba for 19 years in a row. The last vote was 287 against, two in favor of (the U.S. and Israel) with three abstaining. With near unanimous opposition, why is it that the U.S. government can’t just give it up and end the embargo?

It’s definitely not a human rights thing, because we trade with countries that have much worse human rights track records than Cuba. And it definitely can’t be a communism thing, because we trade with several communist countries (China, anyone?). Could it be that we’re still trying to make an example of Cuba because they sided with the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War? Could be. One thing is for sure—one of our closest neighbors is in such dire economic straits that they recently had to devalue their own currency, and we’re doing nothing to help them along. Not very neighborly, is it?

Oh, and another thing is for sure—if you’re an American citizen, you’re not allowed to smoke Cuban cigars, period. Let’s hope that all changes this September.