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Cuba's Cigar Legend, Alejandro Robaina

The dean of Cuban tobacco men and his grandson, Hiroshi, discuss the state of cigars in their homeland in a wide-ranging interview.
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006

(continued from page 6)

Hiroshi: Yes, friends that are like family and that grow tobacco. We exchange opinions, ideas and experiences with them.

CA: About 10 years ago, weren't there fewer families working on tobacco farms in Cuba?

Robaina: Yes, true.

CA: But now the government says that government-owned farms are not as good as family-operated farms. Am I right?

Robaina: Yes, you're right, and this is something everybody tried to make Fidel understand. We knew our way was the right way from the beginning. I told Fidel I did not like cooperatives or state farms and that the best way to grow tobacco was through family production. He wanted me to join a cooperative and I told him no. I would not do it and that I would remain working with my family. At the end he has understood to the point that a lot of the land is now in the hands of small farmers. Many of them do not have the experience, but some have turned out to be very good.

CA: People always talk about the wrapper growers, but don't the tobacco del sol [sun-grown tobacco] producers work well, too?

Robaina: They are very important, but you have to remember that sun-grown tobacco does not require the same care as wrapper. However, there is no doubt that they should be good producers because, as you know, 70 to 80 percent of the quality of cigars rests with sun-grown tobacco.

CA: Is it easier nowadays for you to get the petrol, fertilizers and supplies in general that you need for tobacco growing? Does the system work better now?

Hiroshi: We have not lacked petrol.

Robaina: I cannot speak for everybody else, but I can say that we have had a steady supply of petrol and we have not lacked resources in general.

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