An Interview with Alejandro Martinez Cuenca

Cigar Aficionado sits down with the owner of Nicaragua's oldest cigar brand, Joya de Nicaragua.

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Q: In the United States, "Sandinista" is a bad word. Tell us what it really means, what the purpose of the party is, so people can understand what it means in its purest form.
A: The extreme right vision of the world basically is understood as to let the minority produce growth and then it's going to filter down to the large majority of the people. That's why I became part of the revolution in 1970, because I was convinced, coming from a high-middle-class family, that the model of development that was being pushed by the Somoza regime, which was basically an extreme right-wing vision, did not work. And that's why I became a Sandinista. Because we feel you must give priorities to public policy, that help education, as you do in the United States. Here you are on the right or on the left. If you are critical of the model, you are on the left. The Sandinistas have been critical of the model of the filtering down process.
Q: The trickle-down model?
A: When you have public policy being dictated in the assembly, when you promote investment, when you promote growth and stability and respect for property rights—once all that is done, there shouldn't be a difference between the left and the right. Until now, there has been a perception that the left doesn't respect private property, doesn't respect human rights, doesn't respect criticism from the press. That taboo on the left is not part of my thinking. It might have been different in the 1980s, but at this time the difference between a Sandinista and an ultra-right person should be that we have a different model, but coming from a common ground: there are basic elements that both the right and the left have to respect.
Q: It seems as if Ortega, in having changed the election process, has already shown disrespect for some of the principles you mention.
A: When you have Hugo Chavez trying to expropriate a TV channel because they criticize him, obviously that has pulled back the stigma of the left. All of that is against the liberties we have won. To answer your question, what is the difference of the Sandinista today versus the 1980s? In the 1980s, we did not commit ourselves to recognize property. The Sandinistas recognize that that was a big mistake, to try to give out wealth in order to improve the distribution of wealth in the country. It's more important to give opportunities to people.
Q: We spoke about what the cigarmakers of Nicaragua think about the election. What of the opinion of the international community, those who might be considering investing in Nicaragua? Do you think this has given them pause?
A: If I am reading the signals correctly, people are saying, Let us wait and see. If I am investing in something, I'm not going to stop, but if I wanted to complete this investment in a period of six months, I might want to postpone it. I think it's understandable. That's why Ortega has to understand that this is a tango that takes two to dance. Unless there is investment, the country cannot solve the problems of poverty and unemployment. Some say Hugo Chavez may give us support if we lose investments, but how long will that last? It should be looked at in the long-term perspective.
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