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An Interview With Pedro Martín

Pedro Martín, the founder and owner of Tropical Tobacco.
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Orlando Hernandez, Mar/Apr 99

(continued from page 2)

But I was involved with tobacco. You get involved in tobacco when you love this business. It's a dirty business, you know. Dirty means you have to dirty up your hands and your clothes and everything. If you don't love it, you have to get out.

CA: In 1950, when you established Tabacalera Martín, were you selling tobacco that your family grew in Manicaragua or were you buying leaf tobacco from all over the country and selling it to the factory?
Martín: We mostly used to buy tobacco from other growers from Villa Clara province, making, sorting and curing the tobacco, selling it to both Cuban- and American-owned factories.

CA: But your tobacco always came from Villa Clara province?
Martín: Yes. Later on I started buying tobacco in the Pinar del Río--curing, stripping and selling the tobacco in Cuba and to factories in the United States in Tampa [Florida].

CA: At that time in the 1950s when you had Tabacalera Martín, were you selling to some of the people who today are part of the American cigar industry, such as the Fuentes, Frank Llaneza or Danny Blumenthal?
Martín: I used to sell tobacco to Perfecto Garcia and Garcia y Vega before Frank Llaneza acquired it. He took over in the late '50s or early '60s. I used to sell to the Corral family and to Universal Cigar, which today is part of Swisher.

CA: What about the Menendez family?
Martín: I used to sell to them. I loved those people. The father and uncle of Benjamin Menendez [of Tabacalera España today] were my best friends in Cuba. And they mean a lot to me. They are like my own family.

CA: It comes to New Year's Eve, 1959...
Martín: Nightmare. It was a nightmare.

CA: Did you feel that way at the time Fidel Castro took over, or did you believe that there was a chance that things were going to improve at first?
Martín: I was a young fellow at the time and I felt that it'd be good for Cuba, in the beginning. We needed to change something. Most of the politicians in Cuba were corrupt. I really felt happy about the takeover of my country. But pretty soon I found out that they were not doing the right thing.

CA: How soon did that happen?
Martín: Castro took over in January 1959, and in February I already began to question what he was doing. He was taking everything from everybody. He would steal everything people had, even a small business they had their whole life. He took it away. I felt it was not right.

CA: Did your family still own tobacco farms at that point?
Martín: Yes.

CA: When were they confiscated?
Martín: In 1961. They confiscated our tobacco land, they confiscated our warehouse where we had the sorting and stripping operation.

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