By AMY TAXIN and WILL WEISSERT | Associated Press
In this July 20, 2009 photo, US citizen Mytchel Mora speaks with the Associated Press
A U.S. citizen trying to challenge the ban on travel to Cuba on Friday bemoaned his inability to get arrested or cited — even after having his passport stamped in Havana and bringing back Cuban memorabilia.
Mytchell Mora, a 39-year-old freelance entertainment news producer, said he told U.S. customs officials he broke the law after flying through Costa Rica home to Los Angeles early Friday.
Officials punched some information about him into a computer and sent him home without punishment, Mora said. They didn’t even confiscate his Cuba T-shirt or postcards.
“I am just so surprised nothing happened to me,” Mora, who lives in West Hollywood, said in a phone interview. “What can you really do when you’re saying, ‘take me to jail or give me a ticket,’ and they do nothing to you?”
Jaime Ruiz, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said customs officers don’t issue citations for violations of the U.S. Cuba policy, but rather refer cases to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
“We’ll never deny a U.S. citizen entry,” said Ruiz, who wouldn’t comment on the specifics of Mora’s case. “If he’s in violation of a U.S. law, we report them to another federal agency.”
The Office of Foreign Assets Control did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment on Mora’s case.
Most Americans who travel to Cuba do so on the sly, sneaking in and back without permission from U.S. authorities.
But Mora is trying to make a point, hoping to get arrested or cited after his fourth trip to Cuba so he could challenge the country’s travel ban, which he says discriminates against anyone who isn’t Cuban-American and punishes Cuba’s people, not its government.
He traveled to Cuba without permission in 1999 and 2000. About six months after the second visit, he got a letter from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control saying he had to explain why he went to Cuba, who he stayed with and how much money he spent — and could face fines or jail time if he failed to respond within 10 days.
He wrote back asking to exercise his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and never heard back.
Mora returned to Cuba in 2002 and told the Communist Party newspaper Granma which flight he would take to return to the United States. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, he was pulled out of line by U.S. authorities who said they were waiting for him.
After answering questions about why he went to Cuba, Mora was released and his bags were not checked.
On Friday morning, Mora said he immediately told U.S. authorities that he broke the law and should be subject to a secondary inspection and have his bags checked. Mora said a supervisor was called over and typed information into a computer, but let him keep his souvenirs and leave the airport.
Mora said he hopes he may still be cited so he can challenge the policy in U.S. courts.
During his eight-day trip to Cuba, Mora spent about $50 in government-controlled stores on a green and red Che Guevara beret, a Cuba T-shirt, Cuban flag refrigerator magnets, and postcards featuring a picture of Fidel Castro shaking hands with author Ernest Hemingway.
“They say if you buy these clothes or anything else, it goes to Castro’s hands,” Mora said in Havana. “I don’t think $30 for a shirt is going to make or break this guy. The money I spend goes to the people and their homes, not the government.”
In the early morning hours of May 3, Dr. Charles Grossman boarded a plane that took him about 2,900 miles away from his Portland home for a week.
The 94-year-old doctor’s goal was not a vacation, but to challenge President Obama by flying to Havana.
His challenge goes back a few weeks to when Grossman read in The Wall Street Journal that Obama had lifted the U.S. ban on Americans visiting family in Cuba, or sending money to the island.
While many saw this as progress in America’s 50-year history of contentious relations with Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Grossman says it’s an inadequate step by the new president.
Grossman, who retired in 2008 from his medical practice as a general practitioner and donating his time at a downtown medical clinic, wants the travel and trade bans on Cuba completely abolished.
“I want Obama to lift the ban now,” the bowtied Grossman said last week before leaving. “Not when I’m dead.”
Retired 94-year-old Dr. Charles Grossman spent a week in Cuba as a tourist to challenge America’s ban on trade and travel to Cuba. Grossman returned at 6 am on May 11, was immediately put in handcuffs and shackles, and thrown in jail with a million dollar bail. No, not really. He went through customs with very little to-do:
“I handed in my card which had Cuba written in big letters,” Grossman says. “And the government official looked at it and said ‘welcome home’ and that was my greeting, that was all I got.”