Nicaragua, Part II
Posted: Dec 8, 2009 4:40pm ET
The day dawned early with a 7:30 departure to Estelí, Nicaraguan time. We left at 8:20 and spent nearly an hour slowly weaving through early morning traffic in Managua, trying to get to the Pan-American highway. Once on the highway, things sped up, but I didn’t have enough time to take up the Padróns on their offer to get a quick tour of their factory. You haven’t lived, however, if you haven’t spent two hours in a car with Jose Orlando Padrón, puffing away on his morning stogie and providing directions to his driver at every turn.
When we arrived, the Nicaraguan Cigar Festival’s opening ceremony was under way with the mayor of Estelí welcoming the visitors, followed by Nicaragua’s Vice President Jaime Morales. Morales gave a positive view of the cigar industry, saying how important it was to the country and how committed his government was to the private sector entrepreneurial spirit among the manufacturers. The country’s Minister of Tourism followed with an interesting presentation about the growing investment in that sector and statistics that showed Nicaragua to be among the safest in Latin America right now; a perfect atmosphere to visit the nation’s pristine Pacific Coast beaches, the many active volcanoes, and the wild areas of the country’s interior as well as natural wonders like Lake Nicaragua.
Nestor Plasencia Jr, the young son of the region’s largest tobacco grower—and one of the biggest manufacturers of cigars in the world—then provided a detailed history of the cigar industry in Nicaragua and an interesting discussion of the types of tobacco lands and tobacco types.
I left to take a quick lunch at the Padrón factory with Jorge Padrón and his father José Orlando—a stout offering of fried chicken, rice and beans and fried plantains…total bliss. We finished quickly and went into the factory where about 120 rollers were hard at work; Jose Orlando introduced me to several of his supervisors who had worked for him since he first came to Nicaragua in the early 1970s. He kept pointing out young men and women at the benches who were related to various older employees in the building: “We are one big family,” he said smiling. The tour was quick, but by its end, we were walking through building 21, a new warehouse under construction on the edge of the town; that’s right, 21 buildings scattered across the town filled with the production facilities and a lot of tobacco in fermentation piles and in bales. You don’t have to worry about not having any Padrón cigars in the years ahead.
After lunch my host, Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca, the owner of Joya de Nicaragua, provided details about the economic impact of the cigar industry in Nicaragua and nearly 30 percent of the region’s inhabitants depend directly or indirectly on revenue from cigars. It is one of the most vital industries in Nicaragua, and in general, most people who work at the factories bring home far above the national average monthly wage, making it one of the most sought after jobs in the country. As I noted yesterday, those wages have transformed Estelí into a vibrant regional economic hub.
After Dr. Martinez Cuenca, I spoke for half an hour, in Spanish, about Cigar Aficionado’s perception of the global market for cigars. I was exhausted after reading a 30-minute speech in Spanish. The message was pretty straightforward: Despite years of attacks on cigars in the United States there continues to be a strong market for a premium hand-rolled cigar. And if the industry and consumers who love cigars have anything to say about it, there will continue to be a strong market.
The day was a total success. The event was well organized and well attended by not only every manufacturer based in Nicaragua but others who have cigars made there, such as Manuel Quesada, whose Casa Magna brand is made by the Plasencias. For the Nicaraguan government, it had to be an eye-opener to see, and hear, how one of their national patrimonies is so highly regarded by the world’s cigar smokers. Everyone is looking forward to next year, when with a little advance notice, the festival will be a great time for consumers to make their first visit to Nicaragua.
Click here to check out Nicaragua, Part III.
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