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Inside Cuban Cigars—A Talk With Cubatabaco Head Francisco Padron

Cigar Aficionado meets with Cubatabaco's top official, Francisco Padron, to discuss Cuba's cigar industry.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Rush Limbaugh, Spring 94

(continued from page 1)

C.A.: With the hurricane damage, what do you forecast your exports to be in 1994?
Padron: Let's first discuss how we are going to increase our production. Worse than the hurricane is the embargo, the double embargo. Right now, it's almost like there's an embargo from the other socialist countries. We used to buy from them, fertilizers and plenty of other things for our crops. What is hurting us the most is that we can't buy right now, nor have we bought from the eastern socialist countries during the past three years what we used to buy from them for the cigar crop.

C.A.: What are some of these things?
Padron: Fertilizers and plenty of other things. For example, all the covers or tents used for growing wrapper leaves came from the Soviet Union. And now we can't get them. We used to buy 20 million square meters. Oil, gasoline and diesel. That is very short, and this really hurts the crop.

C.A.: What do you do if you don't have the tenting for the wrap-per crop?
Padron: We reduce the crop. It is as simple as that. You can reuse about 30 percent of the old tents, but the storm [in 1993] destroyed all of the tents.

C.A.: That means those losses will affect future harvests?
Padron: We think that this coming crop will be a little better, and those afterward should be very big ones. For the '94 crop and on, we have solved almost all of our problems, almost everything.

C.A.: So a year from now you should be back to the '90 and '91 levels?
Padron: Even bigger.

C.A.: What is your target for 1995?
Padron: We think that in 1995, we should export 70 million cigars, and in 1996, we should have 80 million to 90 million.

C.A.: But what do you forecast for 1994?
Padron: There will be no more than 50 million cigars.

C.A.: No more? Some people say much less.
Padron: No. No. That is more or less what we are going to do. Remember this. We never, never export cigars unless they are of the right quality. Of course, you may not believe that we can choose or that we wouldn't take a lesser-quality wrapper from the domestic market production and use it for export. But that is not the case. We have to be careful, very careful. Besides, you know what decides the cigar is the shortest crop because we mix three crops. And if you have two short crops in a row, you have problems. So, we have been taking more tobacco from our warehouses.

C.A.: Another comment is that because of the difficult economic situation in Cuba, you don't age the cigars in warehouses as long as you used to because of the shortages in supply and the need for dollars.
Padron: That is not true for cigars. I have instructions directly from Fidel. He has said that I mustn't deliver cigars that are not the best quality. He says that they represent the image of the best quality of Cuba. So we never do anything else but deliver the best quality.

C.A.: In the numbers that you have given me for 1990 to 1995, what percentage is handmade versus machine made?
Padron: Now we only have about 10 million or 15 million machine-made cigars. That's it.

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