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Interview: Frank Llaneza of Villazon

A discussion with the president of Villazon & Co., makers of Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch.
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

(continued from page 6)

Llaneza: Fernando Palicio didn't want to sell to us right after the Cuban embargo was imposed. He figured the embargo wasn't going to last too long. He just kept saying that he didn't want to sell his Hoyo de Monterrey, Belinda and Punch brands. But he said, "Let's make Flor de Palicio." We had an inventory of Havana tobacco, so we brought out the brand and we made all the cigars out of Havana tobacco, and we sold them all to Dunhill. That was how we started with Palicio, and we paid a royalty to him. But as the embargo kept going, he finally sold us the rest of his labels. So we bought the rest of the brands because he had them all registered in the United States.

CA: You said you were in Havana in 1959. What were you thinking at that point?

Llaneza: I thought that this was the greatest thing that ever happened.

CA: Really?

Llaneza: I thought this Fidel Castro was a hero. I was just like

the other dummies. Here comes a guy, and everybody's crying, everybody's bringing him flowers. There were kids directing traffic. There were no policemen, and everybody was laughing and joyous. I thought he was great. Then when I came back to the United States, my uncle, who was working at the Villazon factory, said, "Son, you're just naive. That's communism." I said, "What in the hell is that?" Then, just like my uncle said, Castro declares himself a Communist.

I remember that the people from El Corojo [one of the top wrapper farms in Cuba's Vuelta Abajo], including Daniel Rodriguez, were tremendously pro-Castro. He collected money from most of the cigar manufacturers here in Tampa to support Fidel. Then, Rodriguez was one of the first ones that Fidel Castro took all his cattle from. A lot of people lost their factories and had everything taken. It was a catastrophe. But the majority of these people were really pro-Castro before the confiscations started. I mean, they wanted to get rid of Fulgencio Batista, because they figured he was a tyrant. But then they found out the other one was worse.

CA: How many times did you go back to Cuba after 1959? When did you stop going to Cuba?

Llaneza: The last time I was in Cuba was just about a week or 10 days before the embargo in 1962.

CA: So you continued to go back through 1960 and 1961?

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