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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 8)

CA: Where did you source your tobacco once Cuba was closed?

Oliva: We immediately began growing tobacco in Honduras and moved into Quincy, Florida, and the Connecticut Valley to replace the candela wrapper no longer coming out of Cuba. We formed a co-op in Quincy and another in Connecticut. We purchased a farm in Quincy and a 25 percent ownership in a farming operation in Connecticut. The operation in Connecticut was a group of three farms owned by one of the most respected families in the Connecticut Valley, Dan K. Christian, and his 12 children. Then we made the people from Quincy and Connecticut our partners in Honduras and began a 200-acre farm of wrapper tobacco in La Entrada de Copan, Honduras. When President Kennedy slapped the embargo on Cuba, we were in full swing in Central America.

CA: You make it sound so simple, but I'm sure it was a very chaotic and uncertain time. Were you ever concerned you wouldn't find adequate sources to replace what Cuba once offered you?

Oliva: I was too busy working to think about that. Just when I finished with one problem, it was time for a new one. After we settled operations in Connecticut and Quincy, the demands for tobacco grew even more.

CA: How did you accommodate those demands?

Oliva: We continued to open operations in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.

CA: Did each location have a different type of seed?

Oliva: We planted every variety of seed possible in Florida and Connecticut, and we smuggled from Cuba in order to achieve the highest quality of wrapper, filler and binder. We made enormous investments in those countries; they were very successful.

CA: So your problems were over?

Oliva: In 1979, the Sandinistas came to power in Nicaragua. So we concentrated our efforts in Ecuador for the production of wrapper.

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