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Posted January 27, 2007 by publisher in Cuba Travel

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Canadian Press

A Quebec travel agency is offering clients a $300 discount on its travel packages to Cuba in exchange for taking a suitcase full of personal items into the country.

The company says it is simply acting as a middleman for expatriate Cubans wishing to send hard-to-find everyday items to Cuba.

Montreal-based Antillas Express offers clients a rebate if they take a suitcase past Cuban customs.

A spokesperson who did not want to be identified said the practice is legal and that the company assumes full responsibility for what’s inside the luggage.

“We check all the merchandise because it’s in our interests that it reaches its destination,” the spokesperson told The Canadian Press. “It’s not in our interest that the merchandise be confiscated at the Cuban border.”

She said relatives often use the service to send such items as Aspirin, clothing and pens to family members back home.

Company representatives pick up the suitcase at the airport, and then deliver the items to their intended recipients.

“This way, you can send more (goods to Cuba) and for cheaper prices than (through) the mail,” the spokesperson said.

A U.S. embargo against the Communist island country has long restricted what can be sent there from the United States, and forbids exporting products to Cuba through third countries.

The embargo, which has been in place since 1963, was tightened again in 2004, forcing ex-pats to find new ways for sending gifts back home.

Link to Canadian Press story

  1. Follow up post #1 added on January 28, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Did you have to read this article twice like I did?

    So, do I have this right? The travel agency will give you a $300 discount if you pack a suitcase full of “personal items” for “expatriate Cubans wishing to send hard-to-find everyday items to Cuba”.

    Who would be STUPID enough openly “smuggle” goods into Cuba? Call it charity if you want but sounds like smuggling to me.

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  2. Follow up post #2 added on January 28, 2007 by CAPTAIN C

    Mr. Publisher,  my answer to your 3 questions:  1) NO 2) YES 3)  Please read the Cuban Customs Regulations that are duty free when you travel to Cuba,  10 kilos medical supplies,  $50.00 gifts,  and a list of personel items.  Some items are restricted,  other items you may have to pay 100% duty fees.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on January 28, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I understand that but for a travel agency to “pay you” with a discount AND have the program backed by Cuban exiles? Doesn’t sound like a charity. Sounds more like a smuggling operation.

    “The company says it is simply acting as a middleman for expatriate Cubans wishing to send hard-to-find everyday items to Cuba.”

    Does this mean the exiles are packing the suitcase which the traveler then carries across international lines for them? If that’s the case, ANYONE carrying a suitcase that someone else packed is a real idiot.

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  4. Follow up post #4 added on January 29, 2007 by Pete Chavez

    I didn’t have to read it twice either.  I don’t think it’s a matter of sending gifts back home.  People send necessities to Cuba, publisher you should know that.  Some are everyday necessities like aspirin others are hard to find prescription medications that treat serious illnesses and conditions.  As a Cuban I certainly would not give up one of my suitcases to get a cheaper passage (I have family of my own to bring things too).  I could see a Canadian tourist finding benefit in getting a rebate for doing a good deed.  Aside from the cheap sun and surf they get, they love that we make them feel warm and fuzzy all over.  As a Canadian I would definitely do it but I would demand to inspect the luggage inside and out.  It would indeed be really foolish to take luggage that some else packed without knowing the contents for yourself.
    Publisher, I am surprised that you take issue with this practice.  When I was a college kid I was a travel junky.  I many times traveled “courier”.  There was a company out of JFK airport (NY) that would sell you a dirt cheap ticket to say, Europe.  In exchange one would give up the right to have checked luggage.  One would instead be checking a duffle bag full of documents with missed next day air deadlines.  At the destination airport one would turn it over to a person waiting to pick it up.  That certainly wasn’t smuggling.  Tell me what is the difference here?  In fact I remember going to Europe in those days for $130.00 roundtrip because I was performing suck an invaluable service to businessmen that missed time deadlines.  I feel that getting aspirin and all sorts of prescription medications to people on the island is a more valuable action and an ingenious way to beat the system.  Not at all open smuggling.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on January 29, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Hey folks,

    I have no problem with people bringing supplies into Cuba. I have done it myself. I guess my concern is that exiles are packing suitcases and giving them to unsuspecting travelers who then claim the luggage as their own. Is that what’s happening here?

    What if a radical exile packed a bomb, drugs, hidden electronics or the like?

    It just seems like a VERY odd way for a travel agency to offer charity.

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  6. Follow up post #6 added on January 29, 2007 by viajero

    Good morning Mr.Publisher

    I agree with you. In fact, the company is near my neighborhood, in Montreal.
    I know them and they’ve told me that you can open up the items and revise them.
    I know many friends of mine who have travelled to Cuba using this mechanism, and it looks like a win-win situation.

    And the agency is very careful with the things that are packed, for example, people tend to send all sort of electronic equipment like dvd players, ect and the agency refuses to pack it….

    i hope this clarifies a bit your concerns

  7. Follow up post #7 added on January 29, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    And if something is hidden in a secret compartment of a deodorant can or shampoo bottle, who do you think will be arrested, the person who packed the luggage, the travel agency or the person carrying the luggage?


    I want to make it very clear to Havana Journal readers. Do not transport anything into (or out of) Cuba that you have not packed personally.

    Cuba consulting services

  8. Follow up post #8 added on January 29, 2007 by Pete Chavez

    Publisher,  I don’t think the travel agency is offering charity.  I think they worked up for themselves a good gimmick to compete for travel business to Cuba against other agencies.  In this case as Viajeros says it’s a win win.  But I do understand your concerns.  On a trip to Cuba a friend of mine asked me if I could take a letter for him to a relative.  I declined because I had no idea what the letter might read and since I am not in the business of opening other people’s mail like the Cuban government, I declined to take it.  Of course the friendship has suffered but it’s my skin not anyone elses and people forget that writing negatively against the government is against the law in Cuba.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on January 29, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    So then why is it okay for anyone to take a suitcase full of other people’s stuff to Cuba? The unsuspecting mule is being encouraged by the travel agency and who knows if they have their own agenda?

    Maybe they are smuggling something into Cuba using their customers?

    That’s how I read this whole thing. Certainly NOT as a discount to encourage business but a ploy or scheme of some sort.

    Not a great business move from where I sit?

    Cuba consulting services

  10. Follow up post #10 added on January 29, 2007 by Pete Chavez

    You know publisher, some people send their mothers good brazieres, 100% cotton under wear,  socks.  Others send aspirin, tylenol, minerals and vitamins for elderly relatives.  I use to bring heart medication for one relative and cholesterol reducer for another relative.  I on one occasion brought benadryl to a friend at his request.  You would not believe what it meant to him and his hideous allergic reactions he suffers on the island from time to time for which benadryl seems to be the only medication that provides him with relief.  Can you imagine that?  Benadryl being something that is here over the counter, inexpensive and endless in supply.  That’s really about the long and short of it I wouldn’t worry about it.  I can’t imagine what harm to Cuba or the “Mule” could come wrapped in a brazierre or a bottle of lipitor.  And honestly I wish you’d cut it out with the “Mule” stuff.  A mule is a person that is deliberately smuggling illegal drugs, contraband or items that harm people into a country with the expectation of making a good amount of money and only for the purpose of personal financial gain.  These people are less than honorable, I would hardly characterize well meaning Canadians and all other foreigners as that.

  11. Follow up post #11 added on January 29, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    I am very much in favor of people bringing in all kinds of aid to Cuba AS LONG AS THEY PACKED THEIR BAGS THEMSELVES.

    It’s the delivery of other people’s suitcases that bothers me.

    Also, I did say unsuspecting mule.

    Cuba consulting services

  12. Follow up post #12 added on January 29, 2007 by Pete Chavez

    Like I said, I don’t think a bra or a pair of tube socks is going to hurt anybody.  For years and back beyond the 9/11 attacks airport workers had been asking travelers if they packed their own luggage for obvious reasons.  I am sure that it has already sunk into our mainstream of conscienceness that luggage should be thouroughly inspected by one if they are the one traveling with it.  I really do feel that this is a circumstance where winding up a fool is clearly in the hands of the person that winds up a fool.

  13. Follow up post #13 added on February 05, 2007 by Maplerum

    I as a Canadian have travelled extensively throughout Cuba, back and forth, always taking a second piece of luggage for my friends and doctors. You can go to your local hospital in Canada and ask about salesman samples of drugs etc and soon to be expired drugs to be taken to a country in need. Some hospitals have a full program, others have a less official set-up. You pack a hockey bag full, list all drugs etc. on a sheet of paper. Upon entry to Cuba you might be asked to open the bag, the Cuban customs agent inspects and might ask you a couple of questions. You explain to him that it is being donated to a hospital or doctor in a certain region in Cuba that you are going to. When you reach your destination in Cuba, I suggest you take it directly to a local doctor that friends suggest. Sometimes in the hospitals, a person in a position of power will re-direct and sell the items on the black market.

    I am getting damn tired of certain Americans dictating to the rest of the world. I am currently in South America and witnessing the backlash of many years of arrogant American foreign policy. When these certain Americans do not hold the rest of decent Americans in a place of narrow mindedness then we will see progress in the world. I am sick and tired of the Bush gang sticking there noses into my life because of 911. Many of you do not realize that there are two sets of standards. If the plane I travel in passes through American air space then my name is electronically sent to Washington before take off. However, if an American plane flies over Canadian air space, American authorities refuse to reciprocate. This should be a world of equals, not the stupid us and them policy Washington takes. Wake up America, start voting with your heads, maybe then we will start respecting you. The new unrest in South America will biting you in the rear end.

  14. Follow up post #14 added on February 05, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Interesting perspective. Thanks for your comments.

    Cuba consulting services

  15. Follow up post #15 added on April 11, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Sorry folks. Spammer has been banned.

    Self promotion is okay here so long as it contributes to our collective education.

    Cuba consulting services

  16. Follow up post #16 added on April 11, 2008 by edward with 65 total posts

    I can see that there is a security issue here, in fact there has been for a while as people have taking packages to Cuba for humanitarian reasons for a long time. However, if it’s in good faith what’s the problem?

    The only real problem is that the embargo forces good people into exposing themselves to risk.

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