Cuban cigars have long enjoyed a reputation as the finest cigars in the world. When Fidel Castro nationalized the cigar industry and the US enforced its embargo, Cuba’s cigar industry lost its biggest market.
The industry was thriving prior to the US embargo and government takeover. Many Cubans migrated to the US and worked in such manufacturing centers as Ybor City in Tampa Bay, Florida, a convenient import-export distribution point for tobacco and cigars.
Following nationalization, many of Cuba’s cigar operations were relocated to the Dominican Republic. These cigars do not enjoy the benefits of the rich, cultured Cuban tobacco plantations. From the Dominican, growers were able to send their finished products to the US, the world’s biggest consumer of cigars. Importation of cigars made in Cuba is prohibited by the Treasury Department. American tourists are likewise prohibited from bringing these cigars home.
Pinar del rio Plantation
Relocated Cuban cigar manufacturers have prospered but connoisseurs prefer the rich, flavorful tobacco grown in Cuba’s fertile fields to any other in the world. Cuban cigars have international appeal. The government has never been able to duplicate the marketing success of the original stalwarts of the industry but the “Cuban” is a treasured commodity for cigar smokers around the globe.
A good cigar is the smoke of choice of the Cuban population. Immensely popular with men and women, tourists are often surprised to see Cubans of both sexes enjoying their favorite cigar while resting on a park bench, chatting on street corners, in bars and on beaches.
The Cohiba remains one of the standard bearers of the Cuban cigar industry. A personal favorite of Castro, the innovative mastery of local artisan Eduardo Ribera continued to serve the upper class for years after the revolution. Cohibas were not offered for public consumption until 1982 although Castro supported Ribera for years.
Full-bodied Cuban Cohibas are distinctive because of the rich tobacco flavor accented by an extra level of fermentation, which Ribera invented.
In a twist of irony, General Cigar Company purchased the rights to the Cohiba trademark, Castro’s personal favorite, in the US. General Cigar Company now manufactures its Cohibas in the Dominican Republic. Non-Cuban manufactured Cohibas are distinguished by a “red dot” in the middle of the brand.
Romeo y Julieta
Original Cuban-made Romeo y Julieta cigars came to market in 1835. Generally rated as a medium-bodied cigar, the name was taken from William Shakespeare’s famous work.
The brand rose to fame when the company was purchased by international travel and cigar connoisseur Pepin Rodriquez, who marketed his wares exclusively to wealthy cigar aficionados in Cuba and around the world.
Romeo y Julieta sales received an added boost when Winston Churchill took up the brand during WWII. Rodriquez, ever the marketer, developed a special brand for the British Prime Minister.
After nationalization, high profile French-Spanish cigar manufacturer Altadis acquired half the nationalized company, Habanos, and moved its manufacturing facility to the Dominican, where Romeo y Julieta premiums are shipped to the US.
Like other Cuban cigar brands, Montecristo is actually two brands; one manufactured in Cuba and the other manufactured in the Dominican Republic. The full-bodied Montecristo was a personal favorite of Castro pal Che Guevera.
The Montecristo is named for the famous novel by Alexander Dumas and remains the fourth best seller in the global market, accounting for 25 percent of Cuba’s international cigar sales. Exports from the Dominican manufacturer are also strong. The Dominican operation is also owned by Altadis.
Cuba’s proud history of cigar production can be attributed to the innovative techniques used by small artisans, outstanding marketing and the rich tobacco fields in Cuba’s fertile plains. Primarily due to the lack of US exports, the government owned industry has failed to keep pace with its Dominican counterparts as employment in the sector has waned since Castro’s takeover.