Customs Skills against Evasion of the Law

The work to face up to illegalities at the airport terminals is been continuously improved to frustrate ingenious attempts to violate the law

By: Ana María Domínguez Cruz


2016-01-19 | 16:49:24 EST
The work to face up to illegalities at the airport terminals is been continuously improved to frustrate ingenious attempts to violate the law.The work to face up to illegalities at the airport terminals is been continuously improved to frustrate ingenious attempts to violate the law. Photo: Cortesía AduanaZoom
Many cases have been detected at the border, where some Cubans and travellers from other countries have tried to import drugs or other narcotics for trafficking or consumption in Cuba, and the export and import of specimens illegally of the natural heritage, show that there is plenty of ingenuity for evading the law.

The General Customs of the Republic of Cuba has to continuously improve the training of the staff who work at the airport terminals to impede, with skill and ability, those committing crimes that put the integrity of Cuba and the Cuban natural wealth in risk.

The detection of drug hidden in sandals or other items is very frequent.

Drugs don´t pass the border in Cuba

From January to December, 2015, the General Customs of the Republic (AGR) seized 104.68 kilograms of drug in the 46 cases of drug trafficking registered. Of them, 43 cases took place at the José Martí International Airport (AIJM) in Havana, two at the Terminal for international cargo and another the Mariel Develop Zone.

The Head of the Customs Department for Confrontation at the AIJM Niurbis María Alonso Álvarez highlighted that of the total kilograms seized, 73.43 were cocaine; 30.46 marihuana, and 0.793 of synthetic cannabinoids, which are designer drug or the synthesis resulting from the combination between natural substances and other modified substances.

From the total of the drug trafficking operations identified, 43 were carried out through the air channel at the AIJM terminal, and of them, more than 20 correspond to requests. 

The specialist noted that «Passengers frequently travel and carry items for friends and relatives just to do them a favor, or they sell part of the weight of their baggage to those who want to send a parcel to Cuba. The majority of the time, they don´t check out of the contents of the parcel. And, if we detect any article or substance for which importation is prohibited, the passengers won’t accept the criminal sanction this issue conveys, though they declare don’t be aware of the situation.»

Ten of the case registered at the AIJM were related to the well-known «guzzling mules» who are people who used their body as a reservoir for importing those substances, not hiding the substances inside stockings, shoes, underwear or attached to the body; but using flexible materials for storage that are entered in the rectum through the anus, or in the vagina, or other different types of prosthesis.

«These people are exposed to the risk of absorbing these substances and accidents are fatal in the majority of the cases, which is caused by the fissure or total rupture of the container used. This kind of passenger is very difficult to identify. However, the customs staff are continually developing skills  for fulfilling their confrontation mission.»

Thanks to the skill of the X-Ray specialists, the Canine Technique units, and analysts who work at the terminals, it has been possible to identify the attempts to violate the current law, even when they have used ingenious methods for the importation of these substances.

 Alonso Álvarez noted that the hiding of drug in screws, hydraulic jack, toys, cleaning sprays, food boxes, double bottomed baggage, suitcase handles, chair legs, shoes, purses, and other items,  is added to the list of the new modus operandi of the offenders, who mainly come from South-America. 

“Since 2008 Cubans, residents or not overseas, started to get involved in these illegal activities, which since 1995 are on record in Cuba”, said the expert, who authored a Reference handbook on drug trafficking in Havana’s International airport custom office 1995-2015, presented as a Diploma Course thesis for Female Managers.

“Some 24 issuing countries and 34 target countries were registered in that period, mostly from Europe. Curiously, since 2002 we haven´t detected cases of drugs hidden in clothing”.

She highlighted that the preparation of those working at the borders must be better every day, especially those of X-Rays experts, whose work is to follow up the advanced information which is received and confirm the evaluated signs, since the combination of all the techniques for detection result in the success of the security systems in the airports.

Cases of animal trafficking 

Thwarting the attempts of illegal withdrawal of specimens from the Cuban natural herirage and avoiding the insertion of specimens from abroad into the national territory is one of the missions of the General Custom Department, an entity which reported 134 infractions of the like in 2015, with 12 being considered smuggling.

Senior inspector of the customs headquarters Thisbé Quesada Orta highlighted that the most common ways to attempt to slip past the borders have been postal consignments and the accompanying luggage through the aerial channel destined for Northern and Central America, and in the case of imports, these come from these same regions.

“Drowsy birds inside deodorant tubes and plastic containers with holes, stuck to the bodies or inside the luggage pieces, eggs wrapped in aluminum paper and inside bags or cans are some of the evading formulas by the passengers involved in these illegal activities.

“Relevant was preventing in time the departure of 70 kg of sea cucumbers through Camagüey airport by a passenger who went as far as to attempt bribery. Also was the attempt to export specimens concealed in plastic cases wrapped on the passenger´s waist, under the belt; and others stuck to the genitals or in the underwear.”

Quesada Orta revealed that 472 specimens (199.2 kg) were impounded. “Indigenous and other live birds, starfish, lobster tails, carey shells, crab meat, living tortoise and other species whose export  from Cuba was attempted through the airports of Holguín, Cienfuegos, Camagüey and Havana, and the import of eggs from birds, morrocoy turtle samples were the most common detections performed at the airports of Camagüey and Villa Clara.”

The Senior inspector highlighted the expertise of the custom officers working in the Points of Radiologic inspection, with the use of metal detectors, and in the body search applied to the passengers, and the X-ray operators´ work, a technique which allows the discovery of these kind of illegal activities concealed in the luggage.

“The cases detected in the Postal Customs have also been possible thanks to the X ray equipment and to the experience acquired in the use of this type of detectors against illegal activities.”

Quesada Orta said that many travelers try to violate regulations and be exempted from the responsibility by saying that these articles don´t belong to them, since they were doing a favor for someone. “Whether this is true or not, they don´t stave off the sanctions imposed by the legislation.”

If a passenger wishes to export a sample of our fauna, what is the procedure to be followed?

-The Traveller must carry the certificate of authorization issued by the Centre for Environmental Inspection and Control, which is the document that guarantees the departure of some species If it is on the list of those that are endangered, the permission will not be granted, so if the person is trying to do it anyway, they would be committing a crime.

"In the case of wanting to export rombifer crocodile specimens from the Cienaga de Zapata, a specific document for that action is required, as with the export permit required for the jewels of black coral marketed by Black Coral SA

"Cuba is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) of Washington, documents that establish mechanisms and control measures and obligations for States Parties, placing limitations on the exploitation and marketing of species subject to protection."

The specialist noted that Resolution 87/96 of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, Decree-Law 164/96 of the Ministry of Fisheries, Resolution 447/92 of the Ministry of Agriculture and Industry 230/91 Fisheries are national rules concerning the governing the import and export of species of wild and marine flora and fauna.

"Under Resolution 160/2011 CITMA Customs applies the forfeiture of the species that intends to export illegally.

"Other important regulations are also taken into account by the customs staff and Decree Law 137/93 of Veterinary Medicine; Decree-Law 200/99 of infringements on the environment and Resolution 121/93, related to the health / veterinary regulations on the import of animals, products of animal or biological origin and material from any source likely to cause damage to animal health in the country."

An export permit from the country of origin must be submitted, in the case of an attempt to import, said Quesada Orta. "If the passenger comes from a country outside the Convention, they must carry an export document by the competent authorities, otherwise, Customs will proceed to confiscate," she explained.

Translated by ESTI

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