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The Woman Behind Cohiba

Cuba's first female cigar factory manager, Emilia Tamayo, is making changes at El Laguito, maker of Cohibas.
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Matt Dillon, Spring 96

(continued from page 1)

Counterfeits are another problem with Lanceros, says Tamayo, but it is something she has little control over. "These phony cigars are made in mass and it has really affected the prestige of the brand," she says. "This is what has affected the quality of Lanceros the most. But some of the blame lies on the consumer. A person who knows cigars must know that you can't buy a box of Lanceros for $5 or $10. That's like a Christian Dior dress which costs $1,000 selling for $10. You know something is wrong."

Another problem with Cohiba has been the inconsistency in the Robustos and Esplendidos. The latter have sometimes been rolled too tightly and the former have shown minor differences in flavor and style according to where they have been produced. Tamayo agrees to some degree with these observations, and she plans to take total control of the production of all Esplendidos and Robustos. "Perhaps it is slightly petulant to say, but I think that we can do better [with these larger cigars]," she says firmly. "It's logical. It makes sense. This is the home of Cohiba and Cohiba is mine."

Tamayo planned to train a handful of rollers at El Laguito beginning last December to roll the large cigars. In addition, she hopes in the near future to build an annex to the factory that would be used exclusively for the production of Esplendidos and Robustos. "I have lots of ideas for my factory," she says. "I want it to be all the things I have dreamed about. I would even like to have a small tobacco plantation here and a curing barn for tourists to come and visit and to better understand the process of cigar production."

Another major change at El Laguito has been the introduction of male cigar rollers. Since the beginning, the factory was reserved for women. In fact, the government used it as an example of how women had moved into work areas traditionally dominated by men. "But the women in my factory wanted to work with men," she says. "Also, the men wanted to make Cohiba. I don't see much difference between men and women in rolling. They both can make excellent cigars."

With such innovations, are there any other traditions Tamayo plans to change at El Laguito? "The ones that need to be changed," she says. "Life always needs to be changed."

Even with all the innovations, apparently her personal life hasn't changed much. She and her husband of 25 years, Jorge Tizon Delgado, 54, have always had the same arrangement, both at home and at the office. "My husband is used to being directed at the office and at home," she says with a laugh. "I guess some things never change after all."


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