Americans travelling to Cuba from this week would do well to go with an empty suitcase. Starting from Monday, travellers are now allowed to bring back unlimited supplies of Cuban cigars and rum when they re-enter the United States.
The embargo restrictions on American purchases of Cuban cigars were relaxed two years ago, allowing travellers to bring back $100 worth of products, but President Obama took things one step further last week in a directive stating that Americans can bring back not only an unlimited number of cigars, but also Cuban rum.
American popular culture has long been intrigued by the off-limits Cuban cigar. Tony Montana broods over a Cohiba in Scarface, Atto banters with General Garrison about the superiority of Cuban cigars in Black Hawk Down, and numerous fictional hustlers peddle back alley Cuban cigars to make a little extra cash. The legendary status of the Cuban cigar was cemented by John F Kennedy, who asked Press Secretary Pierre Salinger to deliver him 1000 Cuban cigars right before he signed the trade embargo; Salinger delivered 1200 of them.
While these items are still not allowed to be sold in the US and are for personal use only, travellers are now permitted to bring back as many cigars and rum bottles they can put in their luggage. This shift in economic policy will have a major impact on the Cuban economy, with the potential to generate millions of dollars in revenue. The directive also introduced a number of other new rules allowing joint medical research between the two nations, as well as American investment to improve Cuban infrastructure in a humanitarian context. Cubans are now also allowed to buy certain US-made goods online and Cuban pharmaceutical companies can apply for US approval. These developments are part of a long string of rapid-fire policy changes aimed to normalise ties between the two countries.