Collecting the so-called ‘forbidden’ notes of the island nation of Cuba

Collectors still exchanging Castro-era paper money
By , Coin World
Published : 02/18/16
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As the United States begins to repair its relations with the island nation of Cuba, American collectors begin to wonder whether they will be able to freely collect the paper money Cuba has issued since the Revolution and dictatorship under Fidel Castro, and subsequently his brother, Raul.

It is still illegal for U.S. citizens to import numismatic collectibles from Cuba, including coins and paper money, but such material somehow manages to make its way to American soil.

Many notes can be obtained for a few dollars each, up to several hundred dollars each for rare notes or varieties.

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Once here, the numismatic items are offered for sale at public auction, on coin show bourses and other venues. Except eBay, which imposes a ban on the sale of Cuban numismatic material.

Act of Congress needed

Francis X Putrow, a past president of the Cuban Numismatic Association, said recently that just about everything between the U.S. and Cuba is status quo.

“My understanding is that there have been no changes regarding the Cuban embargo,” Putrow said. “It will take an act of Congress to officially lift the embargo. Until then, I would not expect eBay to officially change their policy of not listing Cuban coins, paper money, etc. However, a few listings can be found on eBay today.”

Another past CNA president, Emilio M. Ortiz, provided additional insights.

“Ebay has not relented in their improper and draconian blockade of Cuban numismatic material listings at their site, Ortiz said. “The material they are blocking includes currency printed by the U.S. [Bureau of Engraving and Printing] as well as banknotes printed by ABNCo [American Bank Note Company] and TdeLR [Thomas de la Rue].

“As far as the law is concerned, the embargo is still in effect and can only be revoked by an act of Congress, however legal experts have stated over and over that numismatic material is EXCLUDED, even from the Fidel Castro period (2nd. Republic) as long as it was not directly purchased from any Cuban Government entity.”

The total ban by eBay on the sale of Cuban numismatic material was imposed effective April 9, 2013.

Mark Flaa, eBay’s category manager for bullion, coins and currency, said Jan. 22, 2016, that the online auction site is still waiting to see what action, if any, Congress and the State Department will take that would allow eBay to lift its ban on Cuban numismatic items.

While the ban is imposed on the U.S. version of the eBay website, some versions — possibly hosted where no governmental bans are in place — from other countries still show listings of Cuban numismatic material. A recent check showed listings from sellers in Canada, Spain, Argentina, Croatia and the Czech Republic.

In the beginning

The U.S. sanctions were imposed more than 50 years ago.

In March 1962, a little more than three years after a triumphant Fidel Castro and fellow revolutionaries marched into Havana and established a new government, Castro announced Cuba’s government would operate as a Communist regime.

Castro’s declaration, coupled with other conflicts between the United States and Cuba, including the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, resulted in more embargo legislation against Cuba being passed and becoming effective on July 8, 1963.

The first embargo by the U.S. against Cuba came Oct. 19, 1960, after Cuba nationalized the American-owned Cuban oil refineries without compensation.

The U.S. sanctions remain in effect, preventing U.S. citizens from legally importing or exporting any Cuban numismatic material issued after the 1962 embargo date.

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