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The Grandson Also Rises

Hirochi Robaina, grandson of the late Alejandro Robaina, is a young Cuban farmer on a mission
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Havana—The Insider's Guide, November/December 2011

(continued from page 2)

“Once, a long time ago, I had a failed love affair and I started to drink,” says Hirochi. “I was 17 years old. I got so drunk, I got dizzy and fell. Someone called my grandfather.”

Alejandro Robaina wrote a note to his grandson on a small card, a card that Hirochi still has to this day. It read: “Hirochi, you are my hope. Don’t let me down. —Alejandro Robaina.”

The words hit the teenager like a slap. “I cried for three days,” Hirochi says. “That helped me solve my problem.”

Those days are long behind Hirochi. Now there is the farm, and the name Robaina, which is at once a huge asset yet also a liability, a benchmark set oh-so-high, which he now strives to live up to. The young Cuban farmer embraces the challenge.
“For me this year is important, but the next year will be more important. I want to prove that it’s not luck,” he says. “I don’t want competition with the rest of the farmers. I want competition with the rest of the world. Nicaragua, Dominican Republic. We have the best tobacco in the world, but they have nice cigars. The construction is good, the draw is good, but always Cuba cigars are too much better. They’re the best. And I don’t say that because I’m Cuban. We have to continue to make the best.”

He chafes at those who doubt that a younger man with a face unscarred by the sun can grow great tobacco. “The image of a tobacco farmer is not just a man in a field. It’s also of a gentleman. The way you look doesn’t tell you the quality. At the end,” he grabs a robusto-sized cigar from his ashtray, the wrapper the color of a perfectly polished brown shoe, the oils gleaming, “at the end, this is what matters.”

The final days of Alejandro were tough on Hirochi. Weary from illness, Alejandro was bedridden, with his grandson carrying the frail old man around as needed. In his last few days, he slept most of the time, often with Hirochi holding his hand. But he was well enough to say his last goodbye to the workers at the farm.

“Before he died, he called every worker into his room and said goodbye to each one by blowing kisses. Then he called in each member of the family and said goodbye. I was the last one. He smiled, he went to sleep, then he passed away,” says Hirochi. “The doctor said, ‘Never have I seen anyone die so peacefully.’ ”

With the first harvest done, and done so well, some of the pressure has been lifted from Hirochi’s thick shoulders. It’s his farm now. But the memory of Alejandro remains strong. The love Hirochi feels for his abuelo is evident, and he remembered him when the tobacco came in.

“When we finished the harvest, I took the two best hands of tobacco and put them on his grave,” says Hirochi. “I think he’s happy. Everything here is being run the way he liked.”

The teachings of Alejandro Robaina live on at Cuchillas de Barbacoa. The mysterious ways, the tricks of the trade. And sitting in that chair at midnight on the right day, to check for the wind.

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Comments   2 comment(s)

Rafael Vaghetti — Porto Alegre, RS, Brasil,  —  June 23, 2012 8:17am ET

This is the best text already read about the "Robaina's" in recent times.

David Savona June 25, 2012 9:36am ET

Rafael, thank you very much.

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