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An Interview with Benjamin Menendez

Speaking with Benjamin Menendez, senior vice president of General Cigar Co., the maker of Macanudo, Partagas, La Gloria Cubana and many more cigars.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Chris Noth, May/June 2010

(continued from page 3)

Q: Did you smoke their cigars?
A: I always smoke any cigar that’s given to me. Anybody gives me a cigar, I will smoke it. And if you go to my home right now, you will see, of course, I have cigars from my company, but I have more cigars from the competition.

Q: As a younger man, how often would you think about Cuba?
A: Every day. To this day.

Q: Still—every day?
A: Cuba is still in my mind. And every time I have a chance to smoke a Cuban cigar I will. I’m looking for how good they are, because that is my target. I want a high target I can shoot at. Cuba had a monopoly on premium tobacco for 500 years. It has only been since 1962 or ’63 that Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico have come to the marketplace.
Q: You still think about Cuba every day. You say your plan has changed—have your thoughts of Cuba changed over those years?
A: I still hate communism. And there is no way I’m going to love it. There is no way I’m going to love it.

Q: Are you less angry now than you were as a younger man, about what happened? About your father’s company being taken away?
A: My wishes are one thing. Reality is another. And you have to live with reality. My wife, my three kids, myself, we all live in Miami. I don’t have anybody, I don’t have any family, any friends in Cuba. They are either dead or in exile. So to go to Cuba is to go to a foreign country. Dave, I’d much rather go to [the DR] a million times than go to Cuba. I could go to Cuba right now. I don’t want to go to Cuba.

Q: Have you ever been back?
A: No. Even if Cuba becomes a democracy, I don’t know if I want to go to Cuba.

Q: Really? If it somehow changed tomorrow, became a free nation…
A: What am I going to see there? I have been fortunate in that I have been twice around the globe. I don’t care to go to another city. I go to a city if I have friends that I can enjoy. To see buildings? I have been to the greatest cities in the world. They don’t tell me anything. Just people.

Q: Different question—what if the embargo is over and you have the opportunity to use Cuban tobacco in your cigar blends?
A: Now I’m going to talk as a Cuban. And as a Cuban, I would never allow one leaf of tobacco to be shipped.

Q: Anywhere?
A: Anywhere. You want Cuban tobacco? Come to Cuba and set up the operation,
because Cuba is going to need the jobs.

Q: In the old days they shipped it to the United States. You don’t think that will happen again?
A: I don’t think so. Tampa doesn’t exist anymore as a tobacco center. I remember the first time I went to Tampa, December of 1952, and there were a ton of cigar factories. They were making about 450 million Cuban cigars in Tampa. When Tampa was created originally, there was no immigration law. There was not even a passport. You just walked.

Q: So by giving jobs to people in Tampa, the jobs were going to Cubans making the cigars?
A: Yes. I’m talking as a Cuban. Now, as a member of General Cigar, yes, I would like Cuban tobacco blended with this tobacco. But I’m talking with two sides of my mouth. I can never forget I’m Cuban.

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