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An Interview with Jose Padrón

Chairman, Piloto Cigars Inc.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Gina Gershon, Sep/Oct 98

(continued from page 16)

CA: You had met Fidel before?

Padrón: Yes, of course. I put the three cigars on the table; I wasn't about to just put one down, I put the three there for him to choose. He takes one and I take another, so now I have one left in my pocket. This is the way it all happened. I began to smoke the cigar as did he.

CA: Had he removed the ring?

Padrón: He had taken off the ring. So we started to talk of Nicaragua because I had told him that we harvested three times a year in Nicaragua. He asked me how that was possible. At that point, we still hadn't touched on the issue of the prisoners. But when the conversation turned to that subject, there were no reporters or anyone else, just our delegation and his people. But then after the discussion, the reporters entered, including someone from The New York Times, and [Fidel] tells me, "Hey Padrón, this cigar is very good, but I think that you have copied the ring. Let me see one." So I handed one over to him. That's when the picture was taken. But that same afternoon we returned to Miami with 42 prisoners.

CA: You were able to get them freed?

Padrón: Yes. When we got to Miami, it still wasn't a big thing until the picture hit the papers. It was something else after that. Padrón Communist was the headline, and yet they didn't know the sacrifice we went through to get people out of prison.

In November 1978 there was another dialogue, about them releasing to us 300 prisoners. Although there were not any big problems, the people were saying that we were communists because we were going over to where Fidel was. And they kept bringing up the cigar thing. Anyway, they released to us 300 prisoners. But I still hadn't gotten the three I most wanted to get out. The Cubans gave me a chance to go into the prisons and look for these guys. Finally, it was after that trip that the bombs started.

The first bomb was on March 24, 1979, but it didn't explode. Extremist groups put it on the side of our Miami factory and a nephew of mine found it and called the bomb squad. After that, the anti-Castro folks bombed us three more times from 1979 to 1982. I must have done something in my favor, because during the bombings, I broke my own sales records in Miami. I put a large banner outside the factory, a saying by José Martí that read: Men are divided into two camps/Those that Love and Build and those that Hate and Destroy.

You know, I took nothing from Fidel. The Cuban government respected me and respects me still today because I made myself be respected. I never said that the situation was good in Cuba, because the system does not work. I never said it to the government nor am I saying it now. I think that they have been wrong; they have to change. They can never say to me that I joined them. All that happened was they treated me with respect and I treated them with respect.

CA: At last count how many political prisoners were freed by the process that the group initiated?

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