Few things will make a cigar aficionado’s eyes dance more than a box of Cubans. I can’t say I’m really an aficionado, but when Jorge handed me a plastic bag with a wooden box in it, I knew what I was holding. Jorge, however, had no idea what a predicament he had just put me in. It was the morning we were leaving Havana. He met us at the airport and it was clear that he didn’t know about this pesky, Kennedy-era executive order called the Cuban Embargo. Why would he? He’s Cuban. He just wanted to give me a thoughtful gift as we were leaving to come back to the U.S. I opened the bag and saw the cedar box and knew that I was now thrust into a massive internal ethics debate as to what to do. The box said Cohiba, my knees weakened.
“Share this with your friends when you get back.”, Jorge whispered in my ear.
Not wanting to let on that I was having an existential crisis I said, “Thank you, friend. You are too kind.”
What was I supposed to do? I was minutes away from walking through passport control on my way to Panama. There I would change airlines and fly back to Miami. If I show up in the U.S. with those cigars, I could be in deep trouble. But how was I to reject my friend’s gift? My first thought was to employ an old trick many have used to get Cuban cigars into the U.S. What you do is simply remove the paper rings and anything else that proves the cigars are ACTUAL Cubans, put them some other kind of container and tell the U.S. Customs agent that they are Dominicans. I opted not to go with this plan, however, because I enjoy not being in jail or having to pay copious amounts of fines. Plus, I am just not going to lie or break the law for some cigars.
My second thought was to smoke them…all 25 of them…in Panama. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, boys. I wasn’t too excited about that plan, either. For one, I’m not really a cigar smoker. Also, our arrival time in Panama was eight o’clcok in the morning. I’m certainly not an AM cigar smoker.
That really only left me with one logical solution. I would delay my decision until I got to Panama. There, I would immediately go to the duty free shop to discuss my options. After all, the cigars were a gift. Maybe that makes a difference. I didn’t purchase them, so maybe there is some kind of loophole giving me exemption to the decades-old embargo. If you cannot tell, by this time I was both grasping at straws and in complete denial.
The flight to Panama was long. I couldn’t stop thinking about those amazing Cuban cigars and how nice it was of my friend to give them to me. He had to have paid a small fortune for that box of Cohibas. There’s got to be SOME legal way to get them into America.
We landed in Panama, and I headed straight for the duty free shop. I asked a salesman if they sold Cubans. He said, “We do. What kind do you want?”
“Well I just have a question about this box of cigars I got in Cuba.” I pulled the Cohibas from my bag and showed them to the salesman.
He smiled and said, “You’ve been in Cuba?”
“Yes, my friend gave these to me this morning.”
I told him that I was en route back to the States and I wanted to know if he knew of any way to take the cigars back.
He said, “Do you know how much that box of cigars costs?”
I shook my head. He walked over to the counter and pulled a cedar box from a locked case. It was a box of Cohibas that looked very similar to mine.
“We do not even sell the ones you have. Your friend probably got them at a good price. These are similar, but not quite as nice as the ones you have.”