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Three Generations of Cuban Cigars

Three Generations of Cuban Cigars

By S Graham January 10, 2016

Cuban Cigars have been in production for quite some time; just because we haven't had access to them since the embargo took effect in the middle of the 1900's doesn't mean they've ceased to exist. Here's a little history lesson on one of Cuba's most sought after exports.

Pre-Embargo: The pre embargo period of time has been talked about at length so I will only highlight the important points here.  In Cuba the embargo is called "el bloqueo" meaning "the blockade" and was first imposed by the United States October 19th, 1960 (all goods were prohibited except food and medicine).  When Castro nationalized U.S. owned oil refineries without providing any compensation, the U.S government decided to extend the embargo. February 7th, 1962 marked the extension of the embargo to include almost all imports by President Kennedy.  All cigars imported into the United States prior to this date are referred to as Pre-Embargo. 

Post-Embargo: This is the 60 year period in which Fidel Castro ruled Cuba. The Cuban cigar suffered greatly in the beginning as Fidel nationalized tobacco farms and cigar companies, causing the families that owned these establishments to flee. This had a devasting effect on both cigar production and quality control. This moment changed cigars forever, creating a Cuban diaspora of cigar producers in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and many other locations favorable to tobacco production.  Over time the quality of Cuban tobacco and the construction of the cigars recovered, however some would argue that we are still not back to Pre-Embargo standards. Pre-Embargo cigars are in higher demand and in limited supply, driving the price to all time highs. While there is a tremendous amount of Cuban national pride around their most prized export, the structure and compensation paid to manufacturers inhibits the availability of the commodity, while non-Cuban cigars continue to improve. Quality of the tobacco grown and construction of the cigars, coupled with advancements in fermentation, harvesting and soil management have led to a brilliant array of products.  This era is better know for brands like Davidoff, Pardon and Fuente emerging from embargo rubble and grabbing market share away from Cuban vitolas.  

Post-Embargo Outlook: In December of 2014 US President Obama announced a step towards normalized trade relations with Cuba. At the time of this article the embargo still stands, however trade relations are warming between our nations at an expedited pace. The U.S. Embassy has officially reopened for the first time in over 55 years and government officials have since visited the island nation. It is widely believed that free trade will open between Cuba and the U.S. in the very near future. While both sides of the political spectrum debate on how our government should proceed, we can all agree that this was a failed policy.  With that said, when the embargo is officially lifted, Cuban cigar aficianados may be in real trouble. With consumption in the U.S. at 330 million cigars annually and Cuba producing roughly 80 million cigars, we are staring down the barrel of a supply issue.  Will Havana try to satiate American demand? If so it is likely that quality will fall sharply. Cuba lacks any real infrastructure to handle the increase in demand; hell they barely have highways! This may be a dilemma for all Cuban cigar consumers. With the spike in demand, coupled with the inability to handle such demand, prices will likely increase dramatically while quality will suffer.

Now that I've instilled some real panic in you, here's a little advice: stock up on your favorite Cubans. Buy a box or two every month of your favorite brands and hide them away.  No one actually knows what our government has in mind for a timeline as far as the official lifting of the embargo is concerned, or how long the quality of Cuban cigars will suffer once trade resumes. I think it's safe to assume you will need 3-5 years worth of Cuban vitolas. Cuba will figure out the impending production and quality so buy them now and laugh at your buddies who will inevitably spend $50 a stick on a basic Partagas Serie D No. 4 when the trade relations are finally normalized!

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