Tobacco Asia

Volume 19, Number 4

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tobaccoasia 29 Credit photo Norio Hattori On February 1962, US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy signed Proclamation 3447, which would slap an embargo on all US trade with Cuba. However the story says that he only signed the Proclamation once he had securely acquired 1,000 H. Upmann Petits, his favorite cigars. The early 1960s saw the creation of Cubatabaco, primarily in charge of cigar and cigarette production as well as their retail distribution. The Cuban cigar industry was strongly hit by the trade em- bargo imposed in 1962 on the US market: in 1958, over two- thirds of the volume of leaf exports and half the volume of cigar exports were in the US. It is the time when many of the key people in the Cuban ci- gar trade left the island. Most notably the likes of Nestor Plasen- cia, José Orlando Padrón Angel Oliva; most of them settling in Nicaragua, Honduras, or Dominican Republic. The owners of major brands such as Montecristo, H. Up- mann, or Partagas also fled the island, some of them selling their brands to Consolidated Cigars or General Cigars. One of them is Benjamin Menendez, whose family owned Menendez, Garcia y Cia, the largest cigar factory in Havana - the H. Upmann factory, where the most famous brand rolled was Montecristo. After fleeing Cuba, he made cigars in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, spent time with Altadis U.S.A. Inc. and now consults for General Cigar Co. After the revolution, a number of brands were discontinued and there are now 350 references of Cuban cigars. With this deep and legendary history, one can understand why Cuban cigars have almost been elevated to a myth. Without the US markets, Cuba focused its efforts on Eu- rope. Cigar exports were about 79 million in 1958, dropped to about 55 million in 1970 and increased to about 120 million in the end of the 1970s when blue mold and wet harvests decimat- ed crops. As a consequence, Cuban exports dropped to about 50 million cigars in the mid-1980s until the arrival of Francisco Padron as head of Cubatabaco. Padron changed the way Cuban cigars were distributed and marketed, and introduced foreign investment in the cigar industry. The quality of the Cuban cigars strongly improved in the late 1980s and early 1990s and demand became steady abroad, though exports seldom reached more than 100 million. Cohiba nail art

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