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The First Family of Tobacco

For decades, the Oliva family of Tampa, Florida, has been supplying tobacco to many of the world's top makers of premium cigars.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

(continued from page 5)

Oliva: Ninety-five percent of the tobacco we handled came from Cuba. We knew we could market large amounts of Cuban wrappers and fillers from the San Luis area of Cuba, especially the candela (green) wrapper, which was becoming very popular. So we formed Excelsior Tobacco Company.

CA: So Excelsior Tobacco was actually a brokerage company?

Oliva: Yes.

CA: And the company did well?

Oliva: Our profits grew very fast. We put everything back into the company; pretty soon we became self-financed.

CA: It sounds like you were working a great deal in those days. Did you find time for your family, or was your business more important at that time?

Oliva: My business came first--without it, I would have nothing to offer my family. But that doesn't mean that my family was second. You understand that my business came first because my family was most important to me--my business allowed me to do for my family the way I always dreamed.

My wife, Meca, worked and cooked alongside me every single day. What I was really proud of is that every summer I took my kids to Cuba and, in 1946, Meca and I took our first vacation. We visited every country in South America, for three months. From 1945 and up, our connections in Cuba grew stronger and stronger. We were now a major force in the cigar tobacco business. We supplied almost every manufacturer with some part of the raw material used in their cigar. Things were very, very good.

CA: What happened when Castro began to take power?

Oliva: I am proud to say that Fidel Castro never fooled me. Many believed him and stood behind him until it was too late. Even my father. But in 1958, I quickly chose to liquidate our corporation in Cuba and started to inspect other places that could supply the raw material that we would eventually lose to Castro.

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