Exiles circumvent U.S. embargo to send gifts to Cuba through foreign Web
The Associated Press
Posted December 23 2006, 10:31 AM EST
MIAMI — A small but growing number of Cubans in South Florida are
getting around the U.S. embargo that limits what can be sent to the
communist island by sending their Christmas gifts through foreign
At least one Canadian Web site, www.Cubamaxstore.com, allows people to
ship items such as beef, jams and even deodorant to relatives in Cuba.
While the gifts aren't the I-Pods and Sony PlayStations that Americans
crave, they are much appreciated by Cubans who earn an average of $10 to
$15 a month and often struggle to put enough food on the table.
The trend exemplifies the creative ways Cuban families are seeking to
stay connected, despite the restrictions on travel and exports imposed
by the governments on both sides of the Florida Straits, said
Cuban-American activist Ramon Saul Sanchez.
“Fortunately, people try to keep in touch with their families.
Unfortunately, they have to go through all these measures,'' he said.
Antonio Conte, who left Cuba in the early 1990s and edits an online
magazine of articles written by Cuban dissidents, recently ordered meat
and other items to his adult daughter and son who live in Cuba. He said
it was easier than going through one of the few authorized parcel
services and safer than returning to the island.
“My uncle told me about it. It's better to send food there instead of
money. It's not so expensive, and you can help a bit.'' Conte said. “In
Cuba you have your ration card, and you get chicken only once in a
while. Only the children and the sick get meat.''
A gift basket of assorted canned meats and other snacks costs about $60.
The Web site also offers electronics and appliances, although no one
interviewed for this article said they purchased such items.
While the U.S. embargo against the island _ enacted in 1963 at the
height of the Cold War _ has long limited what can be sent there,
restrictions enacted in 2004 made sending gifts there even more difficult.
Now most Cubans in the U.S. can only visit the island once every three
years and can only send quarterly remittances of up to $300 per
household to immediate family members.
Add to that the Cuban government now takes 20 cents of every U.S. dollar
sent there. The amount is smaller for other currencies, such as the euro
or the Canadian dollar, which makes the Canadian online store more
Neither Cubamaxstore.com nor the U.S. Commerce Department, which
enforces the embargo, returned numerous calls for comment.
Aleida Vives, 68, said she'd never used the Internet before she sent
meat to her sister this year.
“It's a little cheaper,'' she said, adding that meat and other
specialty items are often more expensive in Cuba and the quality is poor.
Others refused to talk about their purchases because they might be
accused of supporting the island's communist government because they
feared their families might get into trouble for accepting the gifts or
“I know people who do it, but I don't know too much about it,'' said
Neuves Fernandez, who works at a Miami-area check cashing office that
sends money orders to Cuba, echoing the response of many.
There's another concern. The Canadian Web site appears to operate in a
legal gray area, said Florida International University Economics
Professor and Cuba expert Jorge Salazar-Carillo.
U.S. law forbids exporting products to Cuba through third countries such
as Canada or Mexico, but it does make an exception for families sending
food, vitamins and personal hygiene items of $200 or less to immediate
family members, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury's
Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Cubamaxstore.com and its customers “are trying to operate under the
radar of the U.S. regulations,'' Salazar-Carillo said.
Conte said sending the food home is not about politics, it's simply
about a father trying to help out his children.
“Food is the most difficult,'' he said. “My daughter never asks for
anything, but they can eat and have a few days without that Cuban
struggle of having to invent how they are going to get enough food on