HAVANA – Lugging duffel bags crammed with soap, socks, toys and toiletries, travelers arriving in Cuba on Monday carried loads of hard-to-obtain consumer goods but complained that new government restrictions on their imports would leave their families wanting.
Passengers on the day’s first flights from Miami grumbled about higher duty fees and limits on the amount of products they could bring to Cuban relatives frustrated with the high prices and scarcity of quality products. At Havana’s international airport, there appeared to be fewer bicycles, 40-inch televisions or other bulky household items that normally made the baggage carousels look like the inventory line of a Target or Wal-Mart.
“There are barely any bags on the floor inside,” said Arnaldo Roa, a 45-year-old Miami handyman on a trip to see relatives. While he had a bag stuffed with toys and clothes for his daughter, he said he wasn’t able to bring his usual extra bags filled with gifts for other family members.
The easing of travel restrictions by the U.S. and Cuban governments over the last five years has allowed travelers to bring in nearly $2 billion of products a year. The Cuban government enacted new rules Monday sharply limiting the amount of goods people can bring and raising customs duties on many items that are still allowed. The government says the measure is meant to curb abuses that have turned air travel in particular into a way for professional “mules” to illegally import supplies for both black-market businesses and legal private enterprises that are supposed to buy supplies from the state.
The rules that went into effect Monday run 41 pages and give a sense of the quantity and diversity of the commercial goods arriving in checked bags. Travelers are now allowed to bring in 22 pounds of detergent instead of 44; one set of hand tools instead of two; and 24 bras instead of 48. Four car tires are still permitted, as are two pieces of baby furniture and two flat-screen televisions.
The value of a passenger’s imported items can total no more than $1,000, with the estimate based on a long list of assigned prices for certain goods ($250 for a video-game console, for example). Those values rose sharply under the new rules, making it far easier to reach the $1,000 limit.