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US government owns you and your smoke

For years, more precisely since 8 July 1963, Cuban cigars have been a banned pleasure for U.S. citizens but at least when abroad they could legally indulge. Earlier this month the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has announced that Americans are barred from not only purchasing Cuban goods in foreign countries, but also from consuming them in those countries.

I quote from the OFAC’s Cuban cigar update (pdf):

The question is often asked whether United States citizens or permanent resident aliens of the United States may legally purchase Cuban origin goods, including tobacco and alcohol products, in a third country for personal use outside the United States. The answer is no. The Regulations prohibit persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States from purchasing, transporting, importing, or otherwise dealing in or engaging in any transactions with respect to any merchandise outside the United States if such merchandise (1) is of Cuban origin; or (2) is or has been located in or transported from or through Cuba; or (3) is made or derived in whole or in part of any article which is the growth, produce or manufacture of Cuba. Thus, in the case of cigars, the prohibition extends to cigars manufactured in Cuba and sold in a third country and to cigars manufactured in a third country from tobacco grown in Cuba.

The penalties for violating the prohibitions include maximum criminal fines for individuals of $250,000 and imprisonment for up to 10 years. Corporations can be fined as much as a million dollars.

What this means is that the US government claims ‘ownership’ of its citizens. It extends its jurisdiction beyond the territory of the United States and imposes its restrictions wherever you are. If that is not the state’s way of saying it owns its citizens, I do not know what is.

This is not the first time we got our knickers in a twist over this modern form of slavery. Here is what Perry de Havilland says about the matter when you get him started on the US citizenship.

American citizenship particularly (more than any other advanced nation’s citizenship) is rather like being branded like livestock. To have that brand means that, unlike almost every other state on earth, the US government will always claim a pecuniary interest in the private property that you acquire, even if you live outside the USA and make your living outside the USA and keep your assets outside the USA. Unlike other countries, which by and large lose interest in you the moment you step outside their borders, the USA actually makes itself your super-owner. The USA do not just claim a territorial monopoly on the means of force, it actually claims to own part of your labour regardless of where you are.

There you have it. You cannot hide. The US government wants to see even through the haze of your cuban. The good news is that you are welcome at Samizdata HQ as I light up a lovely Trinidad fundadore. Just remember not to inhale.

via Ben Hammersley

29 comments to US government owns you and your smoke

  • Guy Herbert

    Sad to say, the number of states that regard themselves as having extraterritorial rights over individuals is increasing. And the US and others are busy extending those powers over even non-citizens in foreign countries–the ICC is one obvious example, the strange jurisdiction purportedly exercised at Guantanamo is another. The European arrest warrant may be a third, depending on whether you think the countries of the EU are separate or not.

  • Mike

    And to think — if only the CIA had managed to make Castro’s beard fall out, all this unpleasantness might have been avoided…

    Incidentally, I enjoy smoking a Cuban cigar as an occasional act of defiance, but they’re too damned expensive for routine consumption. US$1000 for a box of Cohiba robustos? There are lots of pretty good high-nicotine cigars filled with tobacco grown in Honduras and Nicaragua that cost less than a tenth of that.

  • rob molog

    I’m about to return to the US after 10 years in Ireland and the UK and I’ve just found out that I should have been filing income tax returns in the US all these years. Apparently, all income wherever you earn it is subject to US income tax. You can get a pass on the first $70,000/year but it’s not an automatic right. You MUST file a return to be eligible for the exemption. I just can’t wait to talk to the IRS about this when I go back. If they really plan to insist on payment I can kiss my savings goodbye, and then some.

    I’m sure they’ll be reasonable about it….

    Here’s something else I recently found out. If you are eligible for a US passport, then you must have one not only to enter the US, but also to leave the country. In other words, I am barred from leaving the US on my Irish passport. This seems a bit creepy.

  • Pete_London

    I’m not often at a loss for words but …

    I’d love to see the British State try and introduce such a ruling. I’d make it my solemn duty to mail a photo of me sucking on a big fat Cuban cigar, accompanied by a large Cuban rum to the Prime Minister every day.

    Sometimes contempt is the only appropriate response.

  • veryretired

    I was arguing with a very determined statist many years ago about the growth of governmental power and controls during the course of the 20th century. He was convinced the state wasn’t doing enough to protect the myriad of “vulnerable” communities that needed more and better laws and regs.

    Finally, I asked him to tell me of one aspect of human life that was not already covered by some type of governmental rule or regulation. He still hasn’t gotten back to me on that question. I stopped holding my breath a few decades ago.

    It will take as long a committed campaign to reduce the size and power of the state as it took to build it up in the first place.

  • Crikey,
    Good thing I managed to get over my Cuban cigar phase while I was stationed in Portugal with the US Navy!

    Rob, it goes even further with the Passport thing. It was explained to me that travelling to or from the US on another country’s passport is one of the few acts that automatically forfeits US citizenship should anyone official find out you did so. I found that out when I got my British passport.

    Tax-wise, I do not look forward to going back to the States if I ever do…I haven’t filed a return since about 96 myself…Groooaaannn….

  • Richard Thomas

    Paul, it’s my understanding that the U.K. government has made it illegal to go abroad and have sex with children. I trust you will not be expressing your contempt for this extension of jurisdiction in a likewise manner.

    Rich

  • Richard Thomas

    Not Paul, I meant Pete of course.

    Rich

  • Mike

    I’m burning Cuba, one cigar at a time…

  • Neuroto

    I believe I read once that a citizen of the U.S. is subject to an average of about 20,000 laws, regulations, guidelines, and etc., and thus is statistically likely to be in violation of some law for which he might be punished during every moment of his existence.

    Having said that, does anyone know of this regulation ever actually being enforced? A lot of law seems to be the result of some demagoging legislator drawing some prohibition up, with great fanfare, for the folks back in the district, which is thereupon placed on the shelves and rarely, if ever, consulted again.

    Before anyone begins shrieking at my disregard of the potential for abuse inherent in the system, as typified by the example given, I’m not, this is just another example of something I have never heard of before. I’m not sure how often it is actually used against someone, is all.

    Perhaps a useful campaign plank for someone running for office in the future, or for that matter a political party, is that the Congress ought to set itself the task of reviewing the body of law we already have, and weeding out at least half of it, say within a period of five or ten years.

  • I would love to see the government attempt to enforce this law. I can just see some law enforcement goon waiting for me upon my return to the states. And you have just ruined my plausible deniability about the extent of the embargo.

    I think Castro’s death would have to be the first step to ending that ridiculous law but what about all the others?

  • Sandy P

    I’ve heard for a few years now the quality has declined and they’re riding on their cache.

  • boo

    Notice it isn’t just US citizens, but permanent residents that are also subject to this ruling. Get a green card, hand over your freedom.

  • Andrew Robb

    Doesn’t that violate the sovreignty of other states in a way? I know that the U.S. would be hard pressed to enforce that ban until you came back to her soil but it is sort of like making a law in other that is in effect in another nation. Even if it only affects U.S. citizens it still regulates what can and cannot be done in another sovriegn territory.

    As if the whole ownership thing wasn’t bad enough.

  • Shaun Bourke

    And when a US citizen gets into trouble overseas I bet they all make a B line to the nearest US Consulate.

    And to all outside the US that enjoy puffing on a fine Fidel make sure you always enjoy it because it could be the last one you are able to buy. When the US eventuallys drops its embargo the estimates are that the US will absord the entire annual cigar production from Cuba.

    Thats when it will pay David Carr to fly to New York to purchase a box of Churchills.

    And to think Fidels used to be a substitute currency in the former Soviet Union.

  • Richard:

    “iit’s my understanding that the U.K. government has made it illegal to go abroad and have sex with children. I trust you will not be expressing your contempt for this extension of jurisdiction in a likewise manner.”

    The analogy is false.

    The 2003 Act is an unfortunate and unlibertarian piece of legislation in many respects , but it does at least have the merit of requiring that the offence also be an offence under the local law as well as the Act.

  • Pete_London

    it’s my understanding that the U.K. government has made it illegal to go abroad and have sex with children. I trust you will not be expressing your contempt for this extension of jurisdiction in a likewise manner.

    Actually I do. Its not the details of the law, its the principle that when I’m abroad I’m subject to the laws of whichever country I’m in. Please don’t state now that I’m in favour of sex with children.

  • R C Dean

    As a devotee of cigars, I have tried a number of Cubans (real ones) overseas, and honestly cannot say they are superior to top drawer Hondurans or Dominicans.

    Then I realized that every Cuban I bought put money in Fidel’s pocket, and imposed my own boycott until the day his putrid regime hits the ashheap of history.

  • I too have smoked quite a few Cuban cigars of various type and don’t see what all the fuss it about. There are definetely Nicraguan and Honduran cigars of a similar quality without the premium cost. I have never bought a Cuban cigar however, but smoked quite a few in my time.

    This is an incredibly daft law, that is completely unenforcable. What is the point?

  • Last time I was in LA I had a Cuban and it was manifestly superior to the alternatives.

  • Ken

    “The 2003 Act is an unfortunate and unlibertarian piece of legislation in many respects , but it does at least have the merit of requiring that the offence also be an offence under the local law as well as the Act.”

    Interesting. US law is not so lenient – the legality of the proscribed acts in the place where they occur is irrelevant under the US extraterritorial law.

    Not that I’ve heard of any prosecutions since it was passed in the 1990′s.

  • Hrm, I have had some rather expensive cigars and barring the snob appeal they don’t really warrant the snob-appeal.

  • dc

    Ban On Trade With Cuba Prohibits Buying Cuban Products Shock Horror!

  • Ken: The same laws are in effect in Australia. In fact it may be even more expansive. For example, the age of consent in Australia is 16. Australian “Child Sex Tourism” laws apply to any Australian citizen who has sex with a person under the age of 16 anywhere in the world.

    The only defence is A:) That the defendant did reasonably believe the person to be over 16 years of age or B:) that they were legally married at the time.

    What this means in effect, that an Australian who has sex with a 15 year old in Austria (which is legal according to ageofconsent.com in Austria), is still subject to prosecution in Australia if caught.

    There are no “Romeo and Juliet” clauses in the legislation, so presumably an 18 year old travelling in Austria who has sex with a 15 year old would be subject to the same prosecution.

    Overview here (PDF Format)

  • dc: talk about ‘not getting it’. The issue here is that the US does indeed try to apply its laws extraterritorially, claiming their laws apply to you regardless of you not being within their jurisdiction. To the USA, the whole world is their jurisdiction. Cuban cigars are not the issue here.

    Fuck ‘em.

  • Perry: As I noted above, this doesn’t only apply to the US. Even Australia, which has even less reason to believe the whole world is their jurisdiction, does the same thing.

  • El Bendejo

    I sit here in K.L., drinking Cuban beer (I don’t smoke), looking for some Cuban wine, searching how to get Cuban citizenship so that I can go to the US councilate and throw my US passport in their faces… and am going to do my darnedist to have sex with a 16 year old… JUST TO PISS OF THE P.C. AROUND HERE AND THE U.S. OF ANUS!!!!!!

  • El Bendejo

    I sit here in K.L., drinking Cuban beer (I don’t smoke), looking for some Cuban wine, searching how to get Cuban citizenship so that I can go to the US councilate and throw my US passport in their faces… and am going to do my darnedist to have sex with a 16 year old… JUST TO PISS OFf THE P.C. AROUND HERE AND THE U.S. OF ANUS!!!!!!

  • JD

    I’ve been smoking, collecting, and aging cigars for almost 3 years now and have dabbed in Cuban cigars as well. I can easily tell the difference between a Cuban and non-Cuban. Cuban cigars are typically smooth, full of flavor, and strong in the sense that you get a real good buzz from smoking them. You always have to be aware of fake Cubans because there are probably more fakes than genuine Cubans out there. And I know you always “know a guy”, but with today’s fakes, it is incredibly hard to tell the difference, except by how it smokes.

    As for the topic at hand, the US Government has basically gotten in to a pissing contest with the Cuban government. Any politician who lifts the ban will probably be seen as weak, as long as Fidel is sitll in power. There’s a possibility it will be lifted once The Beard is gone.

    -JD