Friday, April 3, 2009

Why I don't buy Cuban cigars

Sure, I've smoked Cuban cigars - guilty as charged - and have even enjoyed many of them, but I don't buy Cuban cigars. Actually the last time I bought Cuban cigars was about five years ago in Tijuana. They were Cohiba Robustos, and who even knows if they were genuine.

Let's face it, there is something to be said for Cuban cigars, but here's the rub: Whenever I speak to a cigar smokers who claim to buy Cuban cigars on a regular basis - they always have "a connection" - I tend to get this visceral reaction. Is it because I'm jealous that they can afford a $300 box of cigars? Maybe a little, but it's not about money. It's about principles. Sure, there are still some very fine cigars made in Cuba, and the Cuban soil and climate are perfect for growing prime leaf, but remember, the government makes the cigars, and we all know what happens when the government takes control of an industry. (Beware auto manufacturers.)

If you're a cigar smoker, they you're probably aware that many of the manufacturers of premium non-Cuban cigars are themselves Cuban expatriates. Moreover, the cigars are all produced from Cuban seed tobaccos. Families like the Perdomos, Olivas, Padróns, Toraños, Eiroas, Plasencias, the Carrillos, Quesadas - I could go on ad infinitum - have all been able to create some amazing cigars working with different soils in other countries. In many ways, the cigars created by the aforementioned are every bit as Cuban as a Havana Partagas Serie D or Montecristo No.2.

Using the skills that have been handed down for generations, these grandmasters working in Miami, Tampa, The Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua have worked their tails off, independently from scratch mind you, to exceed the standards of their native country and create the fine brands they are today.

When an American buys a box of Cuban cigars, I doubt they ever consider, or can even relate to, the brutality many of these same Cuban families have had to endure at the hands of Castro's goons, as illustrated in this quote taken directly from the Perdomo cigars website:

A quiet and peaceful man steadfastly opposed to Castro and the communist revolution, Silvio Perdomo was soon arrested in his own home and quickly tried and incarcerated in the notorious Isle of Pines prison where he endured his harshest treatment. Three years later he was transferred to La Cabana, a murky 18th century fortress overlooking Havana Bay. For the next 12 excruciating years, Silvio suffered through squalid conditions, torture and near-starvation at La Cabana and four other Cuban prisons. Nick, Sr. was also a target of the wrath and violence inherent in establishing Castro's "New Cuba." Ambushed by pro-Castro guerillas, he was shot and critically wounded - within view of the very home his father Silvio was arrested and abducted from.
José Oliva has often told me of his personal disdain for the Castro regime. David Blanco of Los Blancos Cigars once told me a story about a relative of his who, despite hating Castro, had an important job in the regime. One day he received a call from a friend telling him he was being set up for a "hit." In a heartbeat he was on the next boat to Miami, and had to send for his wife and children later. Can you imagine not even having time to say goodbye to your wife and children? There are countless untold stories of families enduring dishonor, oppression, strife, and death.

So when someone tells me about the great box of Cubans he just picked-up, I think of it as a slap in the face to these fine gentleman, and all that they have achieved since putting their families' homeland behind them. Just walk through any cigar store today and look at all the marvelous cigars the free market has created! I don't see the need to buy Cuban cigars. And anyone who actually believes that Cuban cigars are superior to all other handmade cigars, is seriously misguided.

I think its fair to say that many of the manufacturers would like to see the embargo lifted, if only to blend their cigars with Cuban tobacco. Maybe when that happens, I'll buy a Cuban cigar. But realistically, I'd say the Cubans have a lot of catching up to do first.

~ Gary Korb

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the same thing can be said for the purchase of Chinese goods. How many Chinese imigrants do we know and work with that have become political refugees because of that oppressive regime. But everytime we purchase a cheap piece of furniture, toy, appliance, electronic device, or just about everything else on the self at our stores, do we think about the human rights' atrocities. So I say free Cuba of the bondage that we have comitted them to for the past FIVE Decades.

TOB9595 said...

Well stated, Gary. As time goes on so many people forget the terrible oppression that the Castro dictatorship heaped on the Cuban people.
I am guilty of forgetting, putting blinders on, that I support oppression when I buy a Cuban stick.
Thanks for the reminder of reality.
Sometimes I need a kick in the head to put the things of life in proper perspective.
Thank you
Tom

Invictus said...

Kudo's, you're comments about the principle of smoking Cuban cigars is legitimate enough, but my experience is that the cigars just don't seem to match up with those that are legal here in the U.S.

You're right, there may be something about consuming "forbidden fruit", but the fruit that's available in the U.S. is much more pleasing.

Brian said...

Gary, I agree that there are many fine cigars made outside of Cuba, and that one could smoke very happily without ever lighting up a Cubano. I also agree that many fine people have been terribly abused by the excesses of the Castro regime. But Gary, have you never heard of Batista? And the horrors he inflicted on the great majority of Cubans who lived in abject poverty under his corruption? The truth is, many Cubans are much better off today than they were 50 years ago. I look forward to the end of Castro's regime, but only if a true state of democracy replaces it, not another dictatorship.

Anonymous said...

Gary: Your comments about the Cuban cigars were a bit of an eye opener for me and I totally agree.

I've only been smoking hand made cigars for a few years, but the more I do, the more I realize that even if "Cuban" cigars were 10 cents each, at this time we don't have any way to absolutely verify their authenticity.


I look forward to the lifting of the embargo, where I can give the legendary Cubans the attention they deserve!

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I am often disappointed with Cubans. Does anyone think that the cigars produced using the same seed, in almost identical soils, by masters from the Island, and sold in the #1 free marketplace for the last 50 years have not equalled and exceeded anything produced there? The competition in the United States and demand for excellence in both quality and consistency have produced fine cigars in Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Honduras and other places. In my opinion Cuban cigar's only claim to fame now is their inavailability in the States and their resulting artificially high prices.

Cigar Advisor said...

Thank you for all the wonderful comments so far. If I may clarify a few points. First, I'm basically Libertarian. You want to buy Cubans, that's your business. I was only speaking for myself, not trying to preach. Secondly, I may have put too much emphasis on the human rights aspect of my case. As "Brian" alluded to in his comment, Batista was no Saint, either. History's history, so you can't change that. I just feel that these men have worked so hard for so long to reclaim their great names, it seems somewhat insulting to go "behind their backs" as it were, by buying from the country who treated them so cruelly. That said, my primary reason for not buying Cubans is that there are just too many better-made cigars out there for a lot less money.
-Gary

Anonymous said...

Well said Anon #1.

Cuban seed tobacco, now that's funny. I love that line!

You can keep your Opus, PAMS and Ghurkas[sic]. Please pass the RASS and BBF's thank you.

Signed-
Misguided

Robert said...

Just curious, but you don't happen to make a living selling non-cuban cigars, do you?

Anonymous said...

Leaving aside the politics, the fact is that many if not most cigar smokers in the world see Cuban cigars as the benchmark by which all other cigars are measured, and that all others fall short. That is a matter of individual taste, and to condemn as "misguided" the taste of such a huge subset of the population is, itself, "misguided."

Anonymous said...

Gary,

Here I go again, I got censored once, you never know !!!!

Nobody is forcing you to smoke cubans. So why are you justifing
yourself with all this BS ?

If you're playing that game, look
at everything you're wearing, t-shirts, shoes, toys, etc etc .

They all come from where child labor is used . But that's ok, don't worry, the cubans that you won't smoke means more cubans for us. You can stay with your peppery
spicey candies and make believe
that the 90% of cigar smokers in the world ,who will tell you that Habanos are the best in the world,
don't exist. But for God's sake,

Stop trying to convice yourself and
wanting to convert others.

Truely my best regards,
Guy Buscéma, FRANCE

Cigar Advisor said...

Well, this has certainly been the most eye-catching posting in quite a while, so thanks again for all the comments, pro & con. For some of the "cons" let me state one more time. It's NOT the human rights issue. I'm well aware of what goes on in China, Indonesia, and other parts of the globe when it comes to harsh labor conditions. It's that, IMO, there is a much better selection of non-Cuban-made cigars on the market right now in terms of overall quality and flavor. I'm speaking primarily to the hidebound Cuban cigar mavens out there who think nothing else can touch a Havana, and they of all people should know better.

Anonymous said...

Funny, you ask many to expand their sample size with non-Cuban producers, yet your own sample size of Cuban origin seems to be quite thin?

What experience do you have with the Cuban "market"? I hate to make assumptions, but I'm going to assume that you're stateside based on your employer and the "guilty as charged" comment. Your listed "experience" is in Tijuana, a city that does indeed have an LCDH but also runs rampant with fakes (as you candidly mention). Have you gone to a established LCDH or B&M outside of the States? Perhaps an old estancio in Spain or a small but well stocked store in Geneva? Or is your "experience" based solely on mail order, when "caveat emptor" applies, especially depending on the source?

It seems as if the "cool thing" during the boom was to have a cuban cigar. Now, the "cool thing" is to bash cuban cigars. Unfortunately, the sword cuts both ways (arrogant NC bashers number very many). Regardless, there is a reason why the non-cuban market has only cornered the United States. HSA owns the cigar market the world over, and there's a reason for that.

Bottom line is, don't write off something based off of so little experience. Otherwise, you sound like a mindless shill for your NC-based company trying to keep the mass's interest away from the possibly impending relaxation of the Cuban embargo.

Anonymous said...

You said,

"I'm speaking primarily to the hidebound Cuban cigar mavens out there who think nothing else can touch a Havana, and they of all people should know better."

It's a simple matter of taste, Gary. We Cuban cigar mavens happen to prefer the unique taste of Cuban cigars to the taste of non-Cuban cigars. To imply that we are misguided or disintenuous over a matter of taste is simply stupid. The expression "Each to his own taste" is so patently true that there's a cliche for it in virtually every language. The Romans said, "De gustibus non disputatum est." (Pardon any spelling errors). Translated it means "Concerning taste there can be no debate."

You've expressed your taste preference, which I fully respect. Now how about showing those of us who prefer Cuban cigars the same respect?

Cigar Advisor said...

To the "Anonymous" comment above: Well said, and fair enough. I've always ascribed to a "to each his own" philosophy.

JensBob said...

Yea, because getting no money because their largest neighbour has embargoed them for decades has really helped the cuban people to get freedom, right? That's just silly.

The only thing the US embargo has achieved is to make sure that the cuban people are not only living under a dictatorship, but also made sure that they are as poor as possible. And for what? Simply because the US administration can't stand to see any kind of communism work out and does anything in their power to stop it.

Don't get me wrong here, I am not in any way endorsing communism or dictatorship, I'm just saying that the people that are hurt the most by the lack of US trade in Cuba are the Cuban people, not the ones responsible for the state of affairs.

I agree that all Cuban cigars are not all they are made out to be, especially at the price point they are at there are often better options. But if the Habanos where allowed to compete on the free market and where readily available in the US (as they are over here) the prices might adjust as well. In my opinion (which should be the authors as well, claiming to be a libertarian) free and unrestricted trade benefits everyone in the long run, and is the way to better living conditions for everyone, not just a select few.

Anonymous said...

I think we've all forgot that Castro let Khrushchev put nuclear missiles on his island and point them at the US. Most don't realize how close we were to a nuclear war because of these two hooligans. We were extremely close!!!

I say keep the embargo, and I'll keep smoking my NC Montecristos.

Oh...and to imply that the suffering of Cubans is a result of the US embargo is absurd!!! Since when was the US there to ensure the prosperity of the World?

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Thanks for the info. I generally have quit smoking as I recognize it can get problematic/addictive. But once in a while I do indulge in smoking Cuban cigars to relax and relieve stress (there flavors are simply intense, with earth, spice and licorice building into a dense thick smoke).

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