Fifty years ago, the USA and Cuba were at the brink of war. Had this war occurred, the world may well have witnessed the beginning of World War III. Fortunately, for us all, the clock stopped ticking literally seconds before midnight. One of the outcomes of the escalation was a US embargo on Cuba.
Move the clock forward those fifty odd years and despite the popular view of US citizens and of many powerful individuals in government, the embargo remains. Regardless of this, US citizens manage to purchase Cuban goods without too much effort. We here in Australia have no embargo and can purchase Cuban goods freely.
So what’s this got to do with coffee?
In Australia, it is legal to import, sell and freely purchase products from Cuba including coffee- as can citizens of the UK. Where it can get tricky is if the purchase directly or indirectly involves a US company.
A few weeks ago, a UK retailer was caught unawares as he offered for sale some Cuban beans and accepted payment via his PayPal account. It appears that he may have purchased and sold a significant quantity of Cuban coffee. All legal in the UK? Yes, but no because a US company handled his PayPal payments. PayPal shut down his account and crippled his business overnight. Few if any in Australia noticed. We certainly didn’t.
Talk Coffee just so happened to have a small stock of Cuban coffee too. We listed it on our website (all 3.5kg of it) and sold one 480g bag of this coffee and our customer paid using PayPal. We received a text based email from PayPal which I ignored as spam. Later when I checked our PayPal account, lo and behold the transaction had been reversed and there was a cease and desist notice warning that our account would be closed if we sold Cuban coffee as we were in contravention of Australian law. As we were doing nothing illegal in Australia, we renamed the coffee to “Turquino” and referred to it only as being sourced from an island off the coast of Mexico. Cheeky I know!
So what then?
The next day our account was frozen and all funds in it were withheld by PayPal. I really thought that this was a joke, but the email we received made it clear that PayPal were serious when they wished us a happy future- without them. We appealed and our appeal was rejected- all for under 1/2 kilo of beans!
A little research found that the UK retailer was able to negotiate and have his account reopened on the proviso that no Cuban coffee was listed on his site for sale. We also found USA origin eBay advertisements for Cuban coffee with successful sales and PayPal payments.
We again appealed to PayPal citing the evidence found and requested the same treatment and on this occasion were successful subject to our agreeing to sign an affidavit that Cuban coffee never be listed for sale on our website again regardless of how payment is accepted. Other countries under US trade sanctions are also included in the affidavit we were required to sign. We were also required to agree not to purchase goods of Cuban origin ever again- or until there is a change of heart in the US.
The ultimate result is that our PayPal account has been now been reinstated, but at this stage, we are reluctant to send 4% of the total from each PayPal transaction to PayPal and we find that our credit card facility and the availability of direct deposit into our account adequately meets the needs of our customers. We may accept PayPal payments in the future, but if so these will occur on our terms.
Some of the goods we need to purchase are available from retailers who prefer PayPal, so it remains handy to be able to spend with our account, safe in the knowledge that at least we won’t be paying the surcharge levied to do so!
The outcome is that we no longer deal with payments using PayPal and it’s their loss. They no longer receive commissions from us. Meanwhile, it’s easy to purchase Cuban cigars, coffee and other items on the US eBay site and pay for them using PayPal….so it’s all about consistency then!
All’s well that ends well…