By: Lincoln B. Salazar, Publisher & CEO
There have been many articles written about Cuba recently, most notably- Cuban cigar sales opening up to those of us in America.
This is big change in policy, but by no means will it be an overnight process- The embargo, which currently blocks the legality of Cuban cigars in America, is something that has been in place for over 50 years. It isn’t as if President Obama can just waive a magic wand, instantly providing us with an unlimited supply of Cuban cigars, and vacations with American flags waving behind a Jet ski you rented out on shore. The logistics that go along with removing an embargo could take years.
Now, currently you can come back with up to $100.00 worth of Cubans cigars or Cuban spirits. Today, news broke that Americans can now purchase Cuban products around the world, excluding Cuba. While it is somewhat news worthy, this has been something Americans have been doing for the majority of the last 50 years. It’s a law that is rarely enforced, or monitored. When was the last time you heard of an American being arrested for buying Cuban cigars in Europe? You can bet that anyone who has been buying Cuban cigars is probably not on our governments most wanted list. That said, it is great that these talks have opened up, and are continuing between the United States and Cuba.
You may be wondering, “What does this mean for cigars sold here in America?”
It’s a question I have been asked by multiple people, specifically around what impact it will have on Nicaraguan, Honduran and Dominican cigar makers. Well, I say “bring on the Cubans!” In my opinion, the addition of Cuban cigars to the American market will not hurt the current American market manufacturers. I believe that we are on the verge of what will be another cigar boom, much like the premium cigar boom of the 90’s. This time though, it will bring with it more attention to the premium cigar industry, as well as show the dedicated cigar smokers what is truly a great cigar.
Now don’t get me wrong, Cuban cigars are fantastic. I smoke, on average 4-6 cigars a day from every imaginable tobacco growing region in the world. I’ve encountered everything from the worst to the very best of Cuba, Dominican, Nicaraguan or anywhere else in the world. Its my job. I have had way better cigars from the Dominican and Nicaragua then I have from Cuba. It’s my belief that most Americans who think Cuban cigars are the best cigars ever, do so because of a few notable reasons 1.) They are inexperienced 2.) They like the mystique of wanting what they can’t have (Normal in human psychology) or 3.) Most have never had a real Cuban.
The inherent problem with many Cuban cigars boils down to a lack of oversight and production standards that are, well, standard in nearly every tobacco producing nation. Their standards are just different. Beyond that, Cuban Cigars are not going to just pop-up in every tobacco store in the United States overnight. There will be a high demand, which in turn will drive up prices, and quote me on this, the mystique of that $50 Cuban cigar wears off as soon as you realize it isn’t as good as a $10-$20 Nicaraguan or Dominican cigar.
Let’s now take a look at the economics behind the Cuban cigar industry. A cigar roller in Cuba is currently paid roughly $1-$3 USD per month and gets to take two cigars a month. Once American companies start going into Cuba, and the country slowly becomes “Americanized” the prices will go up for nearly everything, and with it, the standard of living- Which is absolutely amazing for the Cuban people.
Most Americans, especially us cigar smokers can’t wait for this embargo to be lifted so we can smoke Cuban cigars and drink some Cuban rum. It’s all about US, right? However, being someone that has been to Cuba this shouldn’t be so much about “US”, rather than it should be about the politically and economically suppressed Cuban Citizens. Most Americans do not realize that under Cuba’s dictatorship its citizens are not allowed to leave the country under most circumstances, nor are they allowed access to many information systems such as the internet. Even the amount of time they spend on their phones is restricted and monitored.
To put things further in perspective: A even Heart surgeon in Cuba only makes 30 Cuban Pesos a month (which is equivalent to $30 US dollars). If you take nothing away from this article, know that Cuba is an extremely poor and suppressed country; a country nonetheless, filled with amazing people that are full of family, love and hope.
A dear friend of mine, Rafael Nodal who risked his life when he escaped Cuba on a rickety, hand made raft, in order to make it over to the United States-purely so he would have access to the level of opportunity that is available here in America. Today, he is one of the best cigar blenders in our industry. A real Cuban-American success story, of which there are many more out there. Too many to discuss in one article. The people of Cuba deserve every opportunity we have, not only as Americans but on a human level.
The next time you read an article about Cuban cigars or rum, please take a moment to think about the young Cuban Children that will have an opportunity in life for their dreams to come true. We need to stop thinking about what this Embargo will do for America but what it will do for the great people of Cuba.
Lincoln B. Salazar