All rates include insurance and home delivery for shipments up to 100 pounds to locations across the island. In the Havana area, CubaPACK promises to deliver within a week and to other locations within two weeks. Heavier items must be picked up at the port.
It’s been a learning process for IPC, which must guard against people trying to ship in commercial quantities as well as develop an understanding of what items are acceptable. A lawn mower, for example, was recently rejected — perhaps because of its fuel consumption potential in the energy-short island, said Sanchez.
But the biggest learning experience for the fledgling operation is yet to come and will have a big impact on future business. It is Cuba’s plan to impose even more Customs fees on family aid packages.
After three hurricanes walloped the island in 2008, Cuba suspended the Customs fees charged on family aid packages. That was true until mid-June, when Cuba reinstated the tariffs. At this point, the fees are affordable and are charged in moneda nacional, the currency used by Cubans in their everyday transactions. A plasma TV, for example, carries a Customs fee of 150 pesos ($5.66) and the fee for a 21-pound package of miscellaneous merchandise is approximately $6.40.
Most of the Cuban-Americans who were shipping goods at IPC last week said they had wired money to relatives to pay the fees, which are charged when the packages are delivered. “It would be more convenient if they could pay here,’’ said Sanchez, “but we can’t become a collector for the Cuban government.’’
While the current fees aren’t breaking the bank for most people, the Cuban government has said it plans to begin charging the fees in Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs) on Sept. 3. In Cuba’s dual currency system, CUCs are used in the tourism sector and to buy scarce imported items. One CUC is worth $1 U.S., meaning that if the same rates apply in September, the fee for entry of a plasma TV would jump to $150.
“Even we don’t know how this will be implemented,’’ said Sanchez.
So IPC is telling its customers to ship as much as they can by an August 26 cutoff, which would assure their packages would be delivered before the new rates go into effect.
Israel Navarro, of West Palm Beach, who was shipping a stroller and layette to his daughter who is six months pregnant, isn’t happy about the potential increase. “It will be very difficult to send things,’’ he said, frowning. “This will be like a reverse embargo.’’
The U.S. phased in the embargo during the early-1960s to keep U.S. dollars from flowing to the Castro government. Through the years, the U.S. has allowed certain exemptions for travel and humanitarian purposes, including the sale of agricultural products, food and medicine.
The new fee schedule is apparently the Cuban government’s attempt to get control over a torrent of merchandise from the United States that has turned into a business for some Cuban-Americans who regularly ferry goods to Cuba to sell for profit. Since the Obama administration lifted restrictions on travel by Cuban-Americans and gift parcels in 2009, the number of charter flights and the amount of merchandise being sent to Cuba has escalated enormously — so much so that Cuban state media said the airport had begun to resemble a cargo warehouse.