“El periódico ha de estar siempre como los correos antiguos, con el caballo enjaezado, la fusta en la mano y la espuela en el tacón.  Debe desobedecer los apetitos del bien personal y atender imparcialmente al bien público”.
José Martí

Cuba Customs and the Country’s Best Interest

Aduana General de la república de Cuba. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Thinking about and reading comments made after Hurricane Irma swept through Cuba, I find myself asking whether Cuban Customs laws adapt to the country and its people’s economic needs or whether they exist instead to make them even more difficult, with restrictions which contradict the nation’s best interests.

I won’t get tired of telling the story of a farmer, a fighter in the Revolution, who was banned from importing a new tractor to use on his farm. Is there really some official somewhere who believes that they are defending national interests by banning tractor imports?

When a country the size of Cuba is spending 2 billion USD per year on importing 80% of the food it consumes, it should allow people to import machines, tools, vehicles and other supplies that the agricultural sector needs, even making them tax exempt.

Cuba lives in a constant bubble of energy fear, as any underdeveloped nation that depends on fuel it can only obtain from abroad. The government seems to be resolute now on transforming the energy sector and moving it towards renewable sources.

Una mirada burocrática de los problemas es que la aduana prohíba entrar tractores porque llevan motor de combustión.

A bureaucratic take on these problems is that Customs ban tractor imports because they have a combustion engine.

The country spends huge sums of money on creating wind and solar parks and maybe it’s this sector that Cuban Customs is linked to national efforts in a positive manner, allowing solar energy devices of up to 5 kW to enter the country, even though duties do need to be paid on them.

And more could be done to increase energy savings by allowing imports of electric cars, a solution for a country without oil reserves, especially because they charge up at night, when the majority of generated electricity is lost.

What’s more, service stations that are supplied with solar energy to recharge these cars have been built. Electric and hybrid cars could be said to be expensive but in Cuban prices they end up being even cheaper than a Lada that is already 30 years old.

Instead, the State continues to import cars that run on gasoline. Every day, businesses put more cars on the street, while public transport continues to be in shortage, which was allegedly going to be financed with car sales at exorbitant prices.

La creación de espacios para venta de materiales de construcción importados y pagados en moneda dura, dejaría los que produce Cuba para los más humildes. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

The creation of spaces where imported building materials can be sold and bought in hard currency would leave materials that Cuba produces for those with lower incomes. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

During Hurricane Irma’s devastating path through Cuba, 10 Cubans died, the majority of whom were the result of buildings collapsing but Cuban Customs continue to ban imports of building materials, it doesn’t even let people repatriating to bring them in their containers.

Why doesn’t the government adopt the ETECSA phone company’s technique of allowing top-ups abroad, which produces so many millions in hard currency? Warehouses could be opened in the Mariel Free Zone full of building materials, where people could buy them abroad.

In order for something like this to work, the State would have to offer better prices, like ETECSA has. If they want to apply the 240% tax, like they do in state-owned hard currency stores, tiles and roofing materials will rot in these warehouses, if employees there don’t divert them to the black market first.

While it’s true that not everyone can buy there, it’s also true that those who can will stop buying on the national market plagued by shortages, and thus more materials will be available for those who have lower incomes. A situation where everyone is a winner.

The main objective of bans and taxes on imports are to protect local industry, public health and security. Who are Cuban Customs protecting when it stops ceramic tiles entering the country, if the country hardly produces tiles itself and they are almost always missing on store shelves?

Why does Cuban Customs only allow 10 kg of medicine to enter exempt of taxes if there are many medicines in shortage in Cuban pharmacies? Wouldn’t it make sense to allow access without weight restrictions or tax duties until Cuban labs were able to produce everything they need to?

It shouldn’t be a problem for medicine to reach Josefina in Manzanillo who claims that “nobody can remember the last time diuretics were sold. I told my doctor not to prescribe me them anymore, that I would see whether I would die swollen or if I could find a solution with homeopathic drugs.”

The State is responsible for managing and calculating looking for common solutions to people’s everyday problems. However, it should also be a facilitator for individual solutions which alleviate the social burden, especially when people’s needs are greater than their resources.

Ya existen estaciones de servicio solares para reabastecer los vehículos eléctricos sin gastar combustible.

Solar service stations to recharge electric vehicles, without using fuel, already exist.

Translation: Havana Times

About Fernando Ravsberg

Nacido en Uruguay, corresponsal de Público en Cuba y profesor del post grado de “Información internacional y países del Sur” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Fue periodista de BBC Mundo, Telemundo de EEUU, Radio Nacional de Suecia y TV Azteca de México. Autor de 3 libros, El Rompecabezas Cubano, Reportajes de Guerra y Retratos.


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