By the Cuba Journal Staff
Image by: Big101big
The soil of Pinar del Río, a province located in Cuba’s southwest, nourishes the distinctive flavor and mystique that has defined the island nation’s image as a producer of the world’s best cigars.
Fidel Castro made a special effort to brand himself as a cigar-chomping revolutionary in the years following his take over. He even created a name to describe his special cigars.
Cuban Cohiba, established in 1966 as a limited production private brand, is separate from the Dominican Cohiba brand that has been available in United States for decades.
The Cuban Cohiba was made exclusively for Fidel and his high-level officials in the Communist Party. The Cuban Cohiba brand gradually developed an elite status around the world, and was first released commercially for sale to the public in 1982 – but not (officially) in the United States.
So distinctive were Cohibas to his image that the CIA developed a concept to make exploding cigars as a means of extinguishing Fidel.
After the 1959 revolution, cigar producers fled Cuba for more friendly locations elsewhere in the region.
As a result, other countries including Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, developed their own cigar industries. And according to experts, these competitors are now out-producing the legendary Cubans.
Each year, Cigar Aficionado, the leading industry magazine, publishes a list of the top 25 cigars in the world.
In a recent year, the number one cigar was the Montecristo no. 2, which is made in Cuba. But only two of the remaining 24 also came from the country. “The playing field has been leveled,” said David Savona, executive editor of Cigar Aficionado. Under new regulations, U.S. citizens can bring back up to $100 of Cuban tobacco (or alcohol) products.
Today, Cuban Cohibas are produced by Habanos, S.A., a Cuban joint venture between Cubatabaco, a Cuban Government company and Altadis, owned by the Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, a British tobacco company.
According to Habanos, sales could potentially grow by 70% should US restrictions be eliminated and allow for direct distribution in the US.
Cuban’s cigar industry is an important source of foreign currency.
The problem is that, outside the US, Cuban cigars suffer from a perception of poor quality and are not revered the way Americans perceive them.
The mystique of what’s forbidden will not be enough to revive Cuba’s former glory as a producer of the world’s best cigars.
It’s up to Cuba’s cigar industry to address production problems and learn to compete in a new environment.