If sanctions are lifted on Cuba, cigar lovers in America will benefit.
By John B. Virata
The Cuban cigar has been the standard for which all other cigars have been judged for decades. It has been for the most part, out of legal reach of most Americans ever since President John F. Kennedy in 1962 signed an order imposing an economic embargo on the island nation, before of course he ordered his press secretary, Pierre Salinger to acquire 1,200 Cuban cigars for his smoking.
Visiting the country today is like traveling into a time warp, with cars from the 1950s still being maintained in any way that their owners can keep them running. Today, Raul Castro is calling the shots, and since he came into power in 2008, he has realized that the policies of his brother Fidel don’t work. Raul has repealed or rolled back a lot of these policies, including the ban on foreign investment, the so-called revolutionary offensive that killed off any private small businesses, and the rectification campaign in the mid 1980s that ended the free market sale of farm produce.
Today, Cubans with the means can travel to virtually any country that will issue a visa. U.S. State Department figures put the number of Cubans acquiring tourist visas to the United States in the first half of 2014 at 19,500. Small enterprise has grown in the island nation. While still a one party state, it seems that market-based economic policies are being slowly ushered into what could be a new and more invigorated Cuba. The announcement last week by President Obama of his desire to begin normalizing relations with Cuba could have potential ramifications on Cuban cigars in the United States, those who smoke them or want to, as well as cigar manufacturers in Cuba and all over the Caribbean.
So how would the lifting of the U.S. embargo on Cuba affect cigar lovers? Ram Rodriguez, of Tabacalera El Artista S.R.L. said that smokers are always looking for different flavors and aromas that each cigar brings and the potential changes to Cuba’s relations with the United States could initiate a new chapter in the cigar industry. He equates the potential to the U.S. cigar boom similar or even bigger than what was experienced in the 1990s.
“The industry will change, new competitors will enter the market and get the attention of a lot of consumers who are looking to try the “Forbidden Apple” but this will only affect in the short term,” Rodriguez told CigarandSpirits.com.
“Cuba will not have enough product to supply and can even drop quality due to the intense demand, and most important, people are going to realize that a good smoke does not depend on the country but in the quality and consistency on every single cigar that comes out of the factory where it is manufactured.
Cigar smoker Jeff Bolkan had a similar response; “Obviously, the Cubans would provide a very attractive option,” Bolkan, co-owner of GladEyes Press in Eugene, OR said. “I don’t believe every Cuban cigar is better than anything grown elsewhere, nor are they likely to be the best deals, but the best Cuban cigars can be “the best” and sometimes, that is worth the scratch.”
Time will tell if and when Cuban cigars gain legal entry into the U.S. market, but one thing is clear, new competition in the United States will certainly bring out the best in cigar manufacturers the world over.