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A Conversation With Fidel

Marvin R. Shanken travels to Havana for an extensive interview with Fidel Castro.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

(continued from page 6)

Castro: We feel that it is fundamental to maintain the quality of our cigars, which is an important legacy that we must preserve. And I think that the quality can even be improved. We are more worried about the quality than the quantity of cigars that can be produced. We feel that the best cigars come from small areas, certain regions and climates where the finest tobacco can be grown. The great cigars of Havana come primarily from the tobacco of Pinar del Rio. It is difficult in other regions. We are familiar with the different soils that give the best kind of tobacco leaves.

For analyzing the locations, I have said that we have to do it like the wine producers. We have to preserve the uniqueness of our cigars. If you have a certain piece of land, let's say 20 or 30 hectares, and it makes a certain excellent quality of tobacco, we should grow tobacco there. You shouldn't go and grow it elsewhere. Many things contribute to this quality: the climate, the soil, the amount of sunshine. It is exactly like wine. The same things happen for the best-quality wines. However, there is more standardization of quality with tobacco than wine in my opinion. Wine can have an exceptionally fine harvest one year and then standard or worse the rest of the years.

In general, if tobacco is grown in the same soil, you can grow the same-quality tobacco leaves. It of course depends on the cultivation and technique, but this is a question of if you can grow more or less tobacco. It is also not a matter of the variety, as it is with other crops like wheat, which is a matter of producing more quantity. In this case, you have to find the best variety of tobacco to produce the best quality of cigars. That is our policy. In the case of the finest export cigars, we are taking measures that guarantee and improve the quality of the cigars that we are producing.

We have a very traditional cultivation. Many of the cigar-tobacco growers used to walk like this because of the number of hours they spent working in the fields. (He stands and walks hunched over like a field worker.) We should say that the tobacco growing takes many man hours. In terms of how much they are paid, it is not very fair. It's almost like slavery, but you cannot make a life out of it. But if you mechanize it, like the blond tobacco for cigarettes, you can make a living. But you cannot mechanize tobacco for cigars because it would sacrifice the quality completely. Tobacco for cigars is not a question of quantity. It has to be planted in a certain place, and it is a selected product. It is economic. It is not something to be exported as a raw material, but to be exported as cigars. This makes it worthwhile in terms of economics.

Shanken: Trinidad. We understand that it is a brand of cigar that is your own personal brand, which you give to diplomats and friends as presents.

Castro: No. I principally give Cohibas for presents.

Shanken: You don't give Trinidads?

Castro: No. I don't give Trinidads. I give Cohibas. I have been advising the people who are in charge of tobacco production, Cubatabaco, that they should come up with new brands and new blends. This would help the situation with the conflicts over the brands [with similarly named cigar brands from such countries as the Dominican Republic and Honduras]. If we have the best raw material, we have the best soils and the best know-how, why shouldn't we create new brands?

Shanken: The El Laguito factory has a brand called Trinidad, which they say is for you to give as personal gifts. It has become a legend.

Castro: I am not fully aware of that brand, but I assume it is like the Lancero in size from Cohiba.


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