occhio se dopo Cuba passate agli USA
Report Finds U.S. Agencies Distracted by Focus on Cuba
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By MARC LACEY
Published: December 19, 2007
Catching Americans who travel illegally to Cuba or who purchase cigars,
rum or other products from the island may be distracting some American
government agencies from higher-priority missions like fighting terrorism
and combating narcotics trafficking, a government audit to be released
The report, from the Government Accountability Office, says that Customs
and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland
Security, conducts secondary inspections on 20 percent of charter
passengers arriving from Cuba at Miami International Airport, more than
six times the inspection rate for other international arrivals, even from
countries considered shipment points for narcotics.
That high rate of inspections and the numerous seizures of relatively
benign contraband “have strained C.B.P.’s capacity to carry out its
primary mission of keeping terrorists, criminals and inadmissible aliens
from entering the country at Miami International Airport,” says the audit,
a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.
The audit also called on the Treasury Department to scrutinize the
priorities of its Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces more
than 20 economic and trade sanctions programs, including those aimed at
freezing terrorists’ assets and restricting the proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction, but has long focused on Cuba.
Between 2000 and 2006, 61 percent of the agency’s investigation and
penalty caseload involved Cuba embargo cases. Over that period, the office
opened 10,823 investigations into possible violations involving Cuba and
just 6,791 investigations on all other cases, the audit found.
Critics of the American embargo on Cuba seized on the report as evidence
that Washington’s policy, which began in the Kennedy administration and
has grown more stringent ever since, was outdated.
“This is not good policy,” said Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat
of New York, who requested the report a year ago with Representative
Barbara Lee, Democrat of California. “It’s vindictive. It’s stupid. It’s
costly. And now we find out it’s a threat to our national security.”
The State Department, in a statement responding to the audit, said
enforcing the Trading With the Enemy Act, which prohibits Americans from
spending money in Cuba without authorization from Washington, remained an
important tool to isolate the Cuban government. Loosening the embargo,
which the leading Democratic presidential candidates have called for in
the campaign, would “provide increased revenue to the successor
dictatorship run by Raúl Castro, and prolong its tight control over all
aspects of Cuban life,” the department said.
The Bush administration’s tightening of the Cuba sanctions in 2004 appears
to have discouraged many Americans from visiting the island. Manuel
Marrero, Cuba’s tourism minister, acknowledged as much in a recent
interview in Havana, blaming the “blockade,” as Cubans call the embargo,
for scaring Americans away.
“Sooner or later, there will be justice for the people of the United
States, and they will be allowed to visit and share with our people,” Mr.
Even with the number of American visitors down 37,000 in 2006, from 84,500
in 2003, according to the Cuban government, the United States government
devotes significant resources to pursuing those who still go.
Most passengers arriving in Miami from Cuba are American citizens or
residents who fly on charter flights and have American government
permission to visit relatives on the island. But they are forbidden to
bring Cuban products back to the United States. Still, searches regularly
turn up cigars, bottles of rum and pharmaceutical items in the travelers’
Most of the charter flights from Cuba arrive in Miami around midday, with
five flights landing between 11:30 and 11:40 a.m. and additional flights
in the afternoon.
As those passengers collect their luggage, most of the three secondary
inspection facilities and most of the customs personnel are focused on
them. As a result, the audit found, inspection of other arrivals is
Most of the Americans who visit Cuba each year do not go directly from
Miami but use third countries like Canada, Mexico, Jamaica or the Bahamas.
Catching them is difficult but not impossible. In some cases, American
immigration officials simply observe them getting off flights from Havana
at foreign airports where the United States has a presence, officials say.
Those who are caught violating the embargo are referred to the Treasury
Department. Officials there say that Cuba cases, most of which involve
unlicensed travel and the importation of Cuban cigars, consume a
relatively small portion of staff time and do not affect enforcement of
other sanctions programs.
The Treasury Department relies on warning letters and informal settlements
for lower fines than on formal administrative hearings. On top of that,
officials said they have recently begun focusing more of their resources
on other programs and less on Cuba enforcement.
The statistics bear that out. Between 2000 and 2005, there were 8,170
violations of the Cuba embargo, which accounted for more than 70 percent
of the agency’s total penalty cases.
In 2006, however, the number of cases pursued dropped significantly. That
year, only 290 people were fined for violating the embargo, accounting for
29 percent of the agency’s penalty cases.
Although the Treasury Department can assess civil fines of up to $55,000
for those who violate the embargo, most penalties are considerably lower.
Between 2000 and 2006, the average violation brought a $992 fine.
In 2007, 13 people have been fined, most for under $1,000, for ordering
Cuban cigars over the Internet, an increasingly common violation. One of
the largest fines went to Travelocity, the Internet travel agency, which
had to pay $182,750 for booking nearly 1,500 flights to Cuba from 1998 to
James C. McKinley Jr. contributed reporting.
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