Flat screen TVs, Froot Loops cereal, washing machines, laptops, bedroom sets. No problem.
But air conditioners, a power lawn mower, clothes dryers, even an above-ground swimming pool are rejects. The Cuban government has nixed these items since International Port Corp. began a humanitarian shipping service to the island from its Miami River terminal in July.
Pretty much anything is allowed by the U.S. government under the umbrella of family aid — an exception to the five-decade-old embargo — as long as it’s shipped to an individual or by a visiting Cuban who is returning home, said Leonardo Sanchez-Adega, IPC marketing director. “The U.S. definition of what is allowed is very broad as long as it doesn’t conflict with a prohibition on technology transfers.”
It is the Cuban government that is pickier. It recently rejected the pool, which the shipper said was to be used as an emergency well. On an island with a severe water shortage, personal pools are not encouraged. The government will accept fans but not air conditioning units. Clothes washers are fine but not energy-gobbling dryers, said Sanchez. While bicycles are popular items to ship, the Cubans recently said no to a motorcycle chassis and a car transmission.
Since it became the first company in more than 50 years offering direct maritime service from Miami to Havana, International Port Corp. has been in regular contact with the Cuban government about what’s acceptable and what’s not. When an item is rejected, IPC calls the shipper to pick it up — a better alternative than having it confiscated in Havana, said Sanchez.
IPC, whose delivery service is licensed by the U.S. government, uses a leased 300-foot freighter, the Ana Cecilia, and aims to make one trip to Cuba per week.
The third shipment is scheduled to leave Wednesday. Its two 45-foot containers are full of just about everything, even a kitchen sink. Also aboard: equipment for a machine shop that a visiting Cuban planned to open on the island, electronics, bicycles and many small items (a set of pots and pans, medicine, a toilet seat, a shop vacuum, Barbie dolls, Batman underwear and spices).
The trip takes 16 to 18 hours. Offloading occupies an hour or so and then the Ana Cecilia turns around and returns to Miami. The eight-member crew is not allowed to leave the ship.
On Saturday, an IPC worker was helping Hialeah resident Gladys Casanova ready her shipment, which included cereal, powdered milk, cookies, pasta and other foodstuffs. Her items were counted, weighed and repacked in a clear plastic bag and listed on a manifest that accompanies each package.
“This is for my niece. She doesn’t have anyone there and she doesn’t have a job even though she has studied,’’ said Casanova.
One family brought three bicycles that were quickly disassembled and weighed; another man wheeled in a shopping cart laden with two flat-screen televisions. Others brought in PVC pipes and hardware for home repair projects and leopard-print bedding.
Working with CubaPACK, a company set up by the Cuban government to handle family shipments, IPC charges $6 per pound for packages up to 21 pounds and progressively less as the weight of parcels increases. For articles such as 32-inch plasma televisions — the largest the Cubans will allow to be sent — and tablet PCs, there are flat rates of $150. For conventional televisions and heavier appliances, rates are based on weight.