Spirit of giving comes and goes


Then-President Raúl Castro sent Barack Obama a flurry of gifts in the months before the United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations in 2015.
Records show the gifts included:

Bust of Abraham Lincoln, hand carved from wood, clothed in double-breasted jacket and bow tie, cut roughly at the base as if from a tree and gradual smoothing to a polished sculpting at the top of his head. Cigar humidor made of wood in the shape of a house entitled “La Casa de Tabaco.” Bottle of rum. 205 cigars. Cigar cutter. Two books, title: Raúl Castro. Music CD.

According to the Office of the Chief of Protocol, Obama received the gifts on April 9, 2015. Their estimated value was listed as $384.79. The Federal Register reported: “Cigars and rum handled pursuant to U.S. Secret Service policy.”
Translation: Obama kept the rum and cigars.
“Non-acceptance” of the gifts, the Federal Register explained, “would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.”
Cuban leaders shared gifts with their American counterparts despite decades of animosity between the two nations.
Other Cuban government gifts reported in the Federal Register include:

  • “Large ceramic plate with a drawing by renowned Cuban artist” and white linen dress to First Lady Michelle Obama from Raúl Castro and the Council of Ministers on March 21, 2016. Estimated value: $1,190.00.
  • Two linen dresses, two 28-by-15 inch prints of a female face on distressed paper, and a Cuban music collection on CD to the First Family from Raúl Castro and the Council of Ministers on March 21, 2016. Estimated value: $1,164.78.
  • Ten cigars, silver jewelry set with purple gemstones, including earrings and necklace, an music CD to White House staffer Ben Rhodes on Feb. 8, 2016. Estimated value: $670.00.
  • Ten CDs of Cuban music with CD rack, long-sleeved button-down linen Guayabera shirt, four bottles of spirits, box of cigars with lighter, wooden humidor, four bottles of floral fragrances to Barack Obama from Raúl Castro on April 11, 2015. Estimated value: $1,193.57.
  • Box of Montecristo Cuban cigars with matches, cutter, and humidor to Secretary of State John Kerry from Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla on Aug. 14, 2015. Estimated value: $450.
  • Seven boxes of cigars to Barack Obama from Cuban government on Dec. 9, 2015. Estimated value: $4,158.00.
  • $500 in cigars to CIA Director John O. Brennan, on Feb. 9, 2016.

Cuban officials also gave gifts to U.S. officials in 1999 and 2000. The tokens included:

  • Two boxes of Habanos Cuban Cigars to U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln from Cuban President Fidel Castro on May 28, 2000. Castro himself signed the boxes. Estimated value: $700 per box.
  • One box of Habanos Cuban Cigars, also signed by Fidel Castro, to Benjamin C. Noble, legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Estimated value: $700.
Cohiba cigars

Others gift recipients included Sally Walsh, director of Interparliamentary Services; U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan and his wife Kim Dorgan; U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, and his wife Linda Daschle; Howard Waldren, Dorgan’s legislative assistant; Bradley Van Dum, Daschle’s legislative assistant.
Trump administration officials don’t have the same spirit of giving when it comes to Cuba. U.S. policy under Trump states:

No gift parcel may be sent to any of the following officials of the Cuban government: Ministers and Vice-Ministers; members of the Council of State; members of the Council of Ministers; members and employees of the National Assembly of People’s Power; members of any provincial assembly; local sector chiefs of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; Director Generals and sub-Director Generals and higher of all Cuban ministries and state agencies; employees of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT); employees of the Ministry of Defense (MINFAR); secretaries and first secretaries of the Confederation of Labor of Cuba (CTC) and its component unions; chief editors, editors and deputy editors of Cuban state-run media organizations and programs, including newspapers, television, and radio; or members and employees of the Supreme Court (Tribuno Supremo Nacional).

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