Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba introduces new customs limits

An airport worker checks large bundles carried on a cart by a woman at Havana's airport. Photo: August 2014
Image caption Many Cubans say their primary source of high-quality consumer goods may be throttled

Cuba is bringing in new rules limiting personal imports of foreign goods into the country, where locally-made items are scarce and expensive.

Some $2bn (£1.2bn) in goods have been flown into Cuba in travellers' baggage each year since air travel restrictions were lifted in 2009.

Many ordinary Cubans say the new rules will throttle one of their few sources of high-quality consumer goods.

The government says the new measures are aimed at professional "mules".

Baggage carousels

The changes across Cuba are taking effect on Monday, and the Communist government has already published a list of the restrictions.

Travellers will now be allowed to bring in 10kg (22lb) of detergent instead of 44kg and 24 bras instead of 48.

But four car tyres and two flat-screen TVs will still be permitted.

Many Cubans fly to the US and also Europe each year and return home with luggage bursting with goods that are often scarce, badly made or expensive in Cuba.

The baggage carousels at Havana airport often seem to be offloading what looks like the entire contents of a supermarket warehouse.

But the changes have angered many Cubans.

"Very far from protecting the economy, these measures will only bring disadvantage and the only protection they bring is to state monopoly shops," one reader complained to the online edition of Cuba's Granma official newspaper.

"Where are we supposed to buy without difficulty pumps for cars, a set of tools for car engines, assorted clothing that hasn't been hanging for half-a-year the year on the rails in one of our shops because almost no-one wants to buy them?"

Roberto Rodriquez, another Cuban, said: "These measures will strangle and put the brakes on a dynamic economy just to favour the state shops."

But the government has given examples of prolific "mules" including one passenger, who allegedly brought in 41 computer monitors and 66 TVs in one year.

This business is one of the most significant sources of earnings for the Cuban population, says Emilio Morales of the Havana Consulting Group, a Florida-based private consultancy.

He was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that with foreign reserves dropping sharply, the government is desperate to reduce the flow of goods.

He said the authorities also wanted Cubans' relatives abroad to send help in the form of cash remittances which were subject to heavy government fees.

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