Smoke a cigar containing Cuban tobacco in Mexico, go to American jail.
That's the new rule handed down by the odiously-but-accurately named Office of Foreign Assets Control, the freedom-abroad-limiting wing of the Treasury Department. The clarification [PDF], issued Sept. 30, explains that the previous $100 limit on Americans' importation of Cuban merchandise (I should say, licensed Americans' importation, since buying a Cuban tortilla is illegal without Treasury Dept. permission), has now been reduced to $0. And don't think you're free from Uncle Sam if a buddy gives you a Cohiba in Cancun, or even if you're not an American citizen.
This prohibition extends to such products acquired in Cuba, irrespective of whether a traveler is licensed by OFAC to engage in Cuba travel related transactions, and to such products acquired in third countries by any U.S. traveler, including purchases at duty free shops. Importation of these Cuban goods is prohibited whether the goods are purchased directly by the importer or given to the importer as a gift. […]
The question is often asked whether United States citizens or permanent resident aliens of the United States may legally purchase Cuban origin goods, including tobacco and alcohol products, in a third country for personal use outside the United States. The answer is no. […] [T]he prohibition extends to cigars manufactured in Cuba and sold in a third country and to cigars manufactured in a third country from tobacco grown in Cuba. […]
Criminal penalties for violation of the Regulations range up to $1,000,000 in fines for corporations, $250,000 for individuals and up to 10 years in prison. Civil penalties of up to $65,000 per violation may be imposed by OFAC.
In other OFAC news, a coalition of publishing groups, including PEN America and the Association of American University Presses, filed suit late last month against OFAC and Treasury, claiming that OFAC's outrageous and counter-productive new rules prohibiting by force of jail time "substantive or artistic alteration or enhancement" of editorial works originating from countries under full U.S. embargo (Iran, Cuba, Sudan), are in violation of, among other things, the First Amendment. I wrote about the publishing ban earlier this year for The Walrus magazine, with an update here at Hit & Run.