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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 8)

Llaneza: Angel Oliva and I took the first Cuban-seed tobaccos to Jalapa in Nicaragua in 1954. And, by the end of the 1950s, he took some of the tobacco from Nicaragua back to Cuba to some of the farmers there so they could make cigars with it and smoke it just to see the possibilities of tobacco from Nicaragua. It was primitive in Jalapa back in those days. You couldn't get there. There was no road. You had to cross two rivers and there were no bridges. But after that, Mr. Oliva bought farms all over that area and built barns. We were finally able to use that tobacco as we needed it after we ran out of Cuban tobacco. At the time, there wasn't anything that even resembled Cuban tobacco anywhere else in the world.

CA: Why Jalapa?

Llaneza: Because the soil is so fertile there. And we just looked at the burley [a variety of cigarette tobacco] growing there wild and we could see the tremendous size of the leaf and the quality of the leaf. We figured that Cuban-seed tobacco would do well there, and it did. We had some beautiful tobacco there. The reason that happened was it got support from the Anatasio Somoza government. The government agency, INFONAC [an agency charged with tobacco cultivation], started taking over all these farms soon after the American embargo of Cuba and started growing wrapper and filler. They had a big inventory of tobacco but they had no customers.

CA: As far as you know, is that the first time that cigar tobacco was grown in Central America?

Llaneza: No, cigar tobacco was already being grown, but it was for crude cigars. In Honduras, they had copaneco, a wild tobacco that they grew there and were making cigars out of it. They were very poor cigars. But they had never grown any Cuban seed.

CA: Was that the first time you were involved with the Olivas in Central America?

Llaneza: Yes. But the Olivas also started working farms later on that had been developed by the INFONAC. They made a tremendous amount of investment.

CA: Was it around this time that you began to focus on your operations in Honduras?

Llaneza: That's right.

CA: When did you realize you would need a place to make cigars?

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