Tourists might expect to get counterfeit Cuban cigars when they buy them on the streets of Europe, Mexico or New York City.
Yes, admit officials in Cuba. The black market in fake Havanas is alive and well even in Fidel Castro’s own police-state back yard.
“In Cuba, when you buy cheaply priced counterfeit habanos, you really don’t know what you’ve acquired,” says a report in Granma, the official news organ of the Cuban state. “Only the street seller is aware of the deception. When, on your return to Europe, Mexico or Moscow, you open the box in the hope of smoking a good cigar, it’s already too late.”
Boxes of Cuban “puros” are sold on the streets of the capital for as much as $30 – but the price doesn’t ensure they’re real.
Thus, Habanos S.A., working alongside the Cuban customs authorities and other interested parties, has launched an all-out war against fake cigars and illegal purchases in general in an effort to ensure that every cigar that leaves Cuba is the authentic version that has acquired international fame.
According to H?ctor de Moya Mart?nez, principal inspector at the Anti-Fraud Department of the Cuban Customs Office, the counterfeit Cuban cigars on has been damaging the reputation of the genuine item.
Until last October, any tourist could take out two boxes of Cuban cigars without presenting receipts, which were only required for the third box. Now those loose regulations have been tightened. The new rules require a receipt for more than 23 loose cigars.
“The year 2003 was a good one for Cuban Customs, but a bad one for the buyers of imitation Cuban cigars,” says the report. “According to De Moya, nearly 10,000 infractions (9,914, to be exact) were detected, which translated into the confiscation of some 30,000 boxes of fake habanos (29,891). The previous year, 4,675 infractions “only” led to the confiscation of 19,810 boxes.”
According to the official, in January, 4,033 boxes were seized as a result of 1,352 infractions, and in February, another 2,916 boxes were seized, corresponding to 1,017 infractions.
Yet, that’s hardly a dent in the contraband industry. According to the Cuban report, more than 2 million fake Cuban cigars arrive annually in France alone in the baggage of French tourists.