The great Cuban egg bust

A Cuban-American father and daughter face a possible jail term or hefty fines after their attempt to bring 72 unhatched pigeon eggs from Cuba to the United States fell foul of U.S. Customs.

The United States maintains a long-running trade embargo against Cuba that prohibits commercial imports from the communist-ruled island and often leads to seizures of illicit shipments of Cuban cigars destined for U.S. connoisseurs.

But Rufino Blanco, 47, and Claribel Blanco Cuellar, 21, who pleaded guilty to wildlife smuggling in a Miami court on Wednesday, were prosecuted under U.S. federal laws which prohibit the import of fish or wildlife, including eggs, into the United States without proper declaration to authorities.

The defendants each face a possible term of imprisonment of up to five years, criminal fines of up to $250,000, as well as a period of supervised release of up to three years.

A statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida said Cuellar, who returned to Miami in June from a trip to Cuba with the eggs hidden in her luggage, first told Customs inspectors they were for her father to use in ceremonies of Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion.

Santeria mixes Christianity with ancient African beliefs and sometimes involves the sacrifice of animals.

But investigators said the defendants eventually told them they intended to hatch the eggs, which were being transported inside cotton-padded plastic Easter-egg shells.

The aim was to sell the chicks through Rufino Blanco’s Miami pet store, El Morrillero, and his on-line business, which are devoted to racing and homing pigeons, and had been offering Cuban-origin pigeons to enthusiasts.

The statement made no reference to the U.S. embargo against Cuba but said the defendants violated the Lacey Act, which prohibits the import of fish or wildlife into the United States without proper declaration.

It said the U.S. Department of Agriculture “considers Cuba as a source country for potential Newcastle disease, as well as the H5N1 avian influenza” and the seized eggs were destroyed.

Sentencing was set for March.

Copyright © 2010 Reuters

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