Cigar Bar

Safe from Cuban terrorism


In 2003 President George W. Bush ordered the Department of Homeland Security to tighten enforcement of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Now the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the effort going into policing Cuban cigars might be reducing the security of the homeland.

A November GAO report finds that Miami International Airport personnel are so occupied by seizing "small amounts of Cuban tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceutical products" that they have little time left to look for "terrorists, criminals, and inadmissible aliens." While only 3 percent of non-Cuban international arrivals are subjected to secondary inspections at the airport, 20 percent of Cuban arrivals wait in line to be searched again. The eight daily flights from Cuba demand most Homeland Security resources at the airport, one of the busiest in the nation.

Yet the Bush administration keeps demanding tighter controls, worsening the strain on Miami's airport. In addition to the 2003 order requiring additional inspections, the administration broadened the scope of the embargo in 2004. Permitted family visits were slashed from once every 12 months to once every three years. Americans visiting family in Cuba were required to obtain licenses to travel and were told they could spend only $50 per day. A special license allowing extra family visits in case of humanitarian need was eliminated. A $100 limit on the importation of Cuban products for personal consumption was cut to $0. The new restrictions increased the chances of embargo violations, creating more work for Homeland Security.

It's not that officials aren't finding plenty of contraband. In a six-month period between 2006 and 2007, they seized small amounts of tobacco and other Cuban goods on 1,500 occasions—three times the number of non-Cuban seizures. One reason for the widespread noncompliance is what the GAO diplomatically calls "divided public opinion" about the increased restrictions.

But the administration doesn't seem concerned about objections to its policies. Fifty-five years into the Cuban embargo, it is now exploring ways to further tighten the trade and travel ban.