Cubans are proud of their cigars and rum. So it made sense that Cuban leader Raul Castro provided more than $2,000 worth of his nation's most famous consumer products and other items to Barack Obama, his family and a top aide during the former U.S. president's final two years in office, according to federal documents posted online on Wednesday.
The gifts were apparently aimed at celebrating Obama's rapprochement with Cuba, which included an easing of the U.S. ban on importing Cuban liquor and tobacco.
Government officials are allowed to accept presents from foreign leaders and governments if refusing them would cause embarrassment. But they must generally turn them over the National Archives if the goods are worth more than a modest amount. Officials also could reimburse the government for their value.
The documents posted Wednesday by the State Department's Protocol Office indicate the Obamas and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes turned over their Cuban cigars and rum to the Secret Service and the archives.
Castro gave Obama 205 cigars of an unnamed brand, a humidor and cigar cutter along with the bottle of rum in 2015. The tobacco and booze were accompanied by a carved wooden bust of Abraham Lincoln.
The next year, Cuba's president gave former First Lady Michelle Obama a white linen dress and a large decorated ceramic plate worth an estimated $1,190. The Obamas' two daughters also received linen dresses from Castro, two prints and a Cuban music collection on CD valued at $1,164.
Rhodes got 10 cigars, a silver earring and necklace jewelry set and a music CD worth a total of $670 in 2016, according to the State Department documents that will be published in Thursday's editions of the Federal Register.
Among other unusual gifts given to Obama by foreign leaders during his final year in office were a gold and silver sculpture of a Bedouin group decorated with precious gems, and a silver tone letter opener and pen worth $56,720 from Saudi King Salman. He got a black electric bicycle worth $1,499 from the president of Argentina, who also gave the first family two Argentine national football team jersey signed by star Lionel Messi that were valued at $1,700.
The most expensive single gift reported in 2016, however, came from the king of Morocco. He presented the first family with an ornate gold-plated brooch adorned with diamonds and rubies, a gold clutch with an emerald and diamond clasp, diamond earrings and gold teardrop earrings with diamonds and emeralds. Those were estimated to be worth $101,200 and were turned over to the National Archives, according to the documents.
Expensive booze and tobacco products seemed to be favorite gifts to U.S. officials, particularly those in the intelligence community.
Former CIA director John Brennan reported getting a $4,000 bottle of Remy Martin Louis XIII Grande Champagne Cognac, an $1,800 bottle of Siglo Rum, and an unspecified number of cigars worth $500. The documents say those were turned over to the General Services Administration.
An unnamed official from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence received a similar bottle of $4,000 Remy Martin cognac. Curiously, the documents say the liquor was "retained for official use."
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