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Cuba's Cigar Summit

Cigar Lovers the World Over Descended Upon Havana in February to Celebrate the Past, Present and Future of Cuban Cigars
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

(continued from page 1)

Habanos commissioned the El Laguito cigar factory--the main producer of Cohiba--to make three cigars for the dinner. The first was a standard Cohiba Siglo IV, a corona gorda-sized smoke, measuring 46 ring gauge by 5 5/8 inches. A special Trinidad cigar followed. It's a new cigar called the Robusto A, basically an elongated robusto with a 50 ring gauge by about 7 1/2 inches instead of the normal 5 inches. Something called a Cohiba Gran Corona was supposed to be the third cigar, but a highly popular Cohiba Esplendidos arrived at my table instead. It's a Churchill cigar, measuring 47 ring gauge by 7 inches.

While everyone was lighting up, Habanos presented its "Habanos Man of the Year" awards. Jean-Paul Kauffmann, a French publisher, won for communications; Raphael Levy, the Geneva-based agent for Cuban cigars in the Middle East and parts of Africa, won for business; and Jose Martinez Franco, owner of Estanco Magallanes in Madrid, won for retailing.

Castro arrived a short while after the awards ceremony, and all hell broke loose. He stole the show, with the crowd pushing forward to catch a glimpse of the aging revolutionary. "I almost feel like I am the one who is being auctioned off," he said, dressed in a blue double-breasted suit, white shirt and silver tie instead of his standard military fatigues.

In a sense, a part of Castro was auctioned off at the event, since he autographed the five specially made humidors, filled with choice Cuban smokes, that were auctioned off, raising $850,000 for Cuban medical aid.

Following the auction, one of the 21 Millennium Siglo XXI humidors was raffled. The immense treasure--6 1/2 feet wide, 3 1/2 feet high and 6 feet deep--was stuffed with 2,000 Cuban cigars across 20 brands. At least 2,000 tickets were sold at $100 each, and the winner was Zoltan P. Szabo, a 28-year-old Hungarian information systems executive living in Hong Kong.

Just when the room began to mellow, Castro launched into his surprise speech that covered much of the same material he used in 1997 at the Cohiba anniversary celebration. Addressing everything from cigars to Cuban education, Castro again assured the crowd that he "will never smoke again" but that "there are some things that I will never give up."

By the time he and his entourage left, the crowd was reeling on pungent tobacco, rich food, strong booze and mind-numbing rhetoric. Some people got so carried away that they were stuffing extra cigars, large ceramic ashtrays and crystal bottles of Cognac into their pockets. One man was even coveting the dinnerware on my table. But at that moment, the music stopped and the overhead lights were switched on. The party was over. Cigars in the New Millennium

On February 23, Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, gave a keynote speech in Havana to an audience of more than 600 cigar manufacturers, retailers, distributors and aficionados from around the world. The occasion was a special symposium addressing the state of premium cigars. It was hosted by Habanos S.A., the global exporting organization for Cuban cigars. An edited transcript of the speech appears below.

Globalization is no longer a remote concept. It is here. Today. Now.

Who ever thought even five years ago that Chrysler would merge with Germany's auto leader, Mercedes-Benz? Or Deutsche Bank with America's Banker's Trust? Or British Petroleum with the American oil giant Amoco?


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