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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 7)

Llaneza: During that period before the embargo, we were still getting tobacco in Cuba. In fact, we bought all the Cuban tobacco we could possibly buy. There were many manufacturers that got desperate because of the political situation, and they started to make cigars with different blends from different places. And they sold their Cuban inventory. We bought it.

CA: Did you suspect at the time that the embargo might be coming, and that's why you bought so much tobacco?

Llaneza: Yes. A lot of the people that I had met in Cuba were getting their properties confiscated, so the signs were there. But a lot of tobacco people whom I knew also knew where their tobacco was being kept in Havana. They told me to buy it from the communists, from the people who had taken it over. And so when I bought it, I bought it cheaper, and I gave the rightful owners the differential in price. There were people also bringing any Havana tobacco they could find that was already in the United States to me. I was stockpiling it. I was able to stretch out putting Havana tobacco in Bances for years.

CA: Do you have any recollection of how much Cuban tobacco you bought during that period?

Llaneza: I remember that I bought American Tobacco Co.'s entire inventory of Cuban tobacco. If I remember correctly, it must have been about 1,000 bales just from them alone.

CA: Was Mr. Blumenthal part of that decision, too?

Llaneza: Oh yes, sure. That allowed us to drag out mixing in Cuban tobaccos until we had tobaccos in Nicaragua and Honduras.

CA: How long did you blend Cuban tobacco into Bances?

Llaneza: It must have been at least until 1965, about three years after the embargo.

CA: When did you start working on tobacco growing in other countries? And, when did you realize after the revolution that you were going to need those tobaccos for your cigars?

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