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Why Are Cuban Cigars Illegal?

Authentic Cuban Cigars represent the gold standard of all cigars amongst cigar enthusiasts around the world. It is one of the most prized and coveted products of the cigar industry. To the cigar community worldwide, the highest form of luxury and royalty involves puffing on a high-end Cuban cigar and masking in its sweet and rustic aroma. Despite its popularity and appeal amongst cigar smokers in the U.S, it shares a complicated history with the country.

Regardless of the accolades and achievements that Cuban cigars have received over the years, it still faces legal restrictions. The short answer to why Cuban cigars are illegal in the U.S has to do with the strict trade embargo against Cuban imports. John F Kennedy was initially behind this ban, and he established it in the early 1960s.

John F Kennedy

The statement came out in 1962, and the motive behind it was to attack Fidel Castro’s communist regime in Cuba, which was beginning to gain plenty of traction around the globe. The ban had incredibly strict implications at a certain point in history. If the authorities ever caught you trying to smuggle a Cuban cigar into the U.S, you would have to pay a fine that could go up to a whopping 55,000 dollars.

Nevertheless, this ban on Cuban cigars amplified the appeal and desire for Cuban products and thus, made people crave for the taste of Cuban soil in the form of a cigar. Below, this article digs deeper into the complicated relationships of the U.S with Cuba, giving you a better idea of the legality issues about Cuban Cigars.

Fidel Casto’s Reign over Cuba

The history of Cuban cigars and the complicated relationship between Cuba and the U.S is strongly tied to Fidel Castro. Therefore, without mentioning the Marxist-Leninist freedom fighter, it is impossible to get a hold of this topic.

Cubans referred to him as “El Caballo,” and his views propagated an anti-imperialist essence. He wanted to liberate the people of Cuba from the control of the United States, and the only way he could do that was to overthrow Cuba’s government at that time.

Havana Cuba

This ultimately lead to protests by Fidel Castro and his followers, and as he started to gain more supporters, his protests turned into mass revolts against the government. Finally, he was able to confiscate power from the government and was issued the Cuban prime minister’s position on February 16th, 1959.

After he established his reign, Fidel Castro began to exercise his power according to his theology. Thus, in efforts to even out the power hierarchy, many powerful landowners and business owners in Cuba had to give up their properties and wealth.

This led to much trouble amongst foreign economies as well since much of the land and businesses were part of foreign ventures as well. Many people argue that these steps taken by Fidel Castro had strong undertones of hatred towards the U.S attached to them.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion

As Fidel began establishing his authority in Cuba, his steps towards nationalizing private businesses stirred much attention across the world. While the close democratic allies of the U.S saw Cuba as a communist threat, the communist superpower of the USSR was quick to make Cuba their close allies. This put USSR at a significant advantage during their cold war with the USA.

Bay of Pigs Invasion Monument

Similarly, the Cuban forces also benefited from this as they could equip themselves with missiles and warfare arms sent by the USSR. As the cold war began to turn into extreme outcomes, this resulted in a hostile situation for Cuba, which was now part of the ongoing cold war.

As events followed, the U.S made its attempt to set its hold on the shores of Cuba, also known as the Bay of Pigs. However, to their surprise, and because of the poor war tactics, the Cuban army was able to capitalize and destroy the U.S ships that were edging close to the Bay of Pigs. This defeat resulted in worsening the tensions of the cold war, which further led to the Cuban Missile Crises in October 1962.

Historically speaking, it is said that the 13-day standoff between the U.S and USSR, which followed the Cuban Missile Crises, was the closest the world has ever come to a nuclear war. This back and forth Missile tests were spiked after the USA found out that the USSR has set missiles in Cuba. All of these events led to the U.S trade embargo against Cuba.

U.S Trade Embargo

Amidst the spiraling tensions of the cold war, the emerging narrative of anti-communism was manifesting and strengthening in the United States. Cuba’s close ties with the U.S opposition meant that the newly appointed president of that time, John F Kennedy had all the reasons to place restrictions over Cuban goods that were entering the United States soil.

US Cuba Trade Embargo

It was the year 1962 when Kenned ordered to widen the restrictions on Cuban goods in an attempt to declare their animosity with Fidel Castro, and according to some people, in hopes to destabilize the country’s economic condition. These restrictions involved goods coming from Cuba, regardless of whether they were manufactured in Cuba or outside of Cuba.

This Cuban Trade Embargo, unfortunately, also included the ban of Cuban Cigars in the United States. This ban was imposed despite J.F.K’s love for Cuban Cigars, which is why he ordered one of his officials to bring back 1000 H. Upmann cigars from Cuba moments before he made the announcement for the trade embargo.

There are six primary statuses that enforce the trade embargo with Cuba. These include:

  • Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (according to this act, the ban will not lift until Cuba moves towards democratization)
  • Trading with the Enemy Act of 1961
  • Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (this act enforces a peaceful shift to a democratic system)
  • Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000
  • Cuban Assets Control Regulations of 1963
  • Helms-Burton Act of 1996

Are Cuban Cigars still Illegal in the United States?

For over a decade, there have been no significant changes to the legislative ban on Cuban cigars, and even today, you can very much consider them to be an illegal product in the U.S. Nonetheless, over different presidential periods, the regulations on their ban have undergone some changes.

In December 2014, under Obama’s presidency, he announced an ease in the trade embargo restrictions. This relaxation allowed travelers to carry 100 dollars worth of Cuban cigars from Cuba to the United States. This translated to an amount that a person could only carry for personal use and not for the purpose of selling.

However, this partial lift on Cuban Cigar sanctions was soon met with a halt in 2020, as President Trump held a stricter stance towards Cuba. This resulted in prohibiting any and all Cuban imports, including cigars.

Therefore, it is fair to say that the 2014 and the 2019 period was an emphatic time for the cigar enthusiasts of the United States. This was the time where they could smoke their favorite cigar with freedom, and also a time that they long to experience again. Until then, people will have to resort to certain loopholes if they want to enjoy a classic Cuban in their hometown.

This loophole involves purchasing Cuban Cigars from another country such as the United Kingdom and then bringing them over to the U.S. Otherwise, if you really crave the taste of an authentic Cuban, then you can take your endeavors to Cuba and sit back to the sounds of the waves in Havana and enjoy a classic Cuban cigar.

Parallel Brands

Since the ban on Cuban Cigars now meant an increase in demand for the product, many Cuban cigar companies struggling to finance their farmlands, and others that had to lose it to the Fidel Castro regime took their tobacco plantation to other locations in Central America.

Why Are Cuban Cigars Illegal

After some years of production, a legal clause allowed these companies to sell their non-Cuban cigars under their previous brand name. This meant that Americans could still enjoy Cuban brands, knowing that the tobacco does not carry the same aroma of Cuban soil. The rules also prevent manufacturers from selling anywhere else other than the United States.

Getting Caught with a Cuban Cigar

Even though it is very difficult to smuggle Cuban cigars into the country, there have been cases where the authorities have caught people. If authorities catch you carrying an authentic Cuban cigar in the country, keep in mind that they can charge you in the category of a criminal offense, which can result in serious repercussions. If you have a substantial amount of the product, and the authorities suspect activities relating to retail, then you may face a critical penalty.

To Summarize

The trade of Cuban Cigars is illegal in the United States. However, its legality issues have less to do with the toxicity of the product and are geared more towards the political conflicts between the United States and Cuba.