An Interview With Carlos Toraño
President, Central American Tobacco Corp.
From the Print Edition:
Bill Murray, Nov/Dec 2004
(continued from page 2)
Q: When word of the nationalization first got to you, what went through your head?
A: We realized very soon after Fidel came into power that we had made a major mistake, because this was a communist revolution and that there was no way to put it back. The tobacco and the sugar [industries] were the most important ones, so they were the first two that he took over. And you had a lot of people who began to ostracize you because you were not part of the revolution. So the first concern was your family. My brother-in-law was arrested, was let free and was exiled. He left for Peru and then to Spain. My mother, my sisters, my nephew, they all followed.
Q: Was it easy to leave at that point still?
A: It was easy. I remember all that we could take out was $100.
Q: What happened to all your family's wealth?
A: All the bank accounts they'd taken over, the farms were taken over. We lost everything. The Toraño family begins to exit the island. We were in Jamaica, very close with General Cigar. My father lived in the Dominican Republic. Francisco [one of Santiago Sr.'s brothers] lived in Mexico. Jose, a cousin on my father's side, moved to Costa Rica and to Panama. Arturo [another cousin] went to Jamaica and to Brazil together with me, and in 1980 [several of us] went to Ecuador and we went to Mexico. So like I always say, the history of the Toraño family is the history of the tobacco world. That's why in today's world my feeling is, of course, that the best tobacco is grown and the best cigars are made outside Cuba.
Q: Let's talk about your father's journey to the Dominican Republic.
A: When my dad went to the Dominican Republic, he knew in his heart that the soil in the Dominican Republic was very similar to the conditions in Cuba. My dad was working with the Institute of Tobacco. In 1968, he became independent of the Institute. Of course, in the 1970s—late 1960s and 1970s—the big wrapper in the States was candela. So [for most of] the growers who were in South America and Central America and the Dominican Republic, if you were involved with wrappers, you were involved with candela.
Q: Your father died at a fairly young age.
A: Dad died in 1970, when he was just 57. It probably was about 11 o'clock. He was growing candela. You have to get the tobacco sheds very hot through either gas or coal. So you had to watch for burning embers. You had to have people supervising all the time, but you cannot be inside of the shed more than a couple of minutes at the maximum, due to the heat. For those 36 hours, whatever it took, it was very dangerous. So my father comes into this house and he finds these people sleeping. They said my father's heart blew from his rage at finding these people asleep, and the threat was that the whole thing could burn down. He just dropped right there. By the time they took him back to Santiago, he died.
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