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Mooching Cubans

Requesting Free Havanas Takes Stealth, Diplomacy and a Healthy Lack of Shame
Leslie Gelb
From the Print Edition:
Matt Dillon, Spring 96

(continued from page 2)

Satisfying this new love was not as easy as writing about foreign policy or conducting diplomacy. Because Cuban cigars aren't exactly legal in America, they're either hard to locate or too expensive. All of which led me to contemplate the art of mooching, an art more complicated than diplomacy. In diplomacy, you give nothing and you get nothing. In mooching, you've got to give nothing and get something.

Cuban diplomats, eager to put their best foot forward, are often prone to cigar generosity. Last year at a meeting, I introduced a senior Cuban official to those assembled and expressed my hope for better relations between our two countries "for the sake of peace and for my dedication to the very emblem of peace, Cuban cigars." The box arrived the next day. This seemed to me a far more moral approach than President Kennedy salting away thousands of Cuban cigars before he declared the embargo.

Perhaps my most satisfying mooch was perpetrated on a senior Iraqi diplomat. There we were, eyeball to eyeball, in the residence of another Iraqi official stationed at the United Nations. The senior guy's Cubans were just sitting on the end table next to him, doing nothing, not being offered. So I pulled out one of my Dominicans and offered it to the Iraqi.

"No--have one of mine," he said.

"Thanks a lot," I said. "I really love these Montecristos."

"Take another for the road, as you say," he said.

This is not exactly a motherlode of Cubans to procure from an Arab diplomat. They're generally much more generous. But we are, after all, in sort of a state of war with Iraq, and two were better than one, or none. Anyway, as you can see, there is almost nothing I wouldn't do for peace.

To help the peace process anywhere, one must establish personal ties, you understand, to get to know each other as human beings. In particular, diplomats and businessmen usually want to probe for your weaknesses, and I'm only too eager to reveal mine. Once they realize that as a human being you're practically prostrate for Cuban cigars, they invariably like to take advantage and give you several, or a box.

At times, however, you have to play to vanity, the your-Cuban-cigars-are-better-than-mine approach. The strategy has worked on several occasions for me with American business leaders. Once I discover he's a smoker, I say, "I've got some fresh Cohibas." And he says, "No, I'll send you over some of mine. They're specially made."

All art is flawed, ultimately. My downfall is that I talk too much about how I mooch Cubans. I'm always recounting some epic about some Arab sheik's generosity in response to my line about "They're all so good I can't choose." The listeners sit there, ready to pounce, slobbering for their share of the spoils. "That's a great story," they chirp. "Say, do you happen to have any of those Cubans on you?"

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Comments   5 comment(s) January 24, 2012 2:56am ET

Thanks that was a real fun read

Don Wozniak — Joliet, Illinois, United States,  —  April 12, 2012 12:58pm ET


So, do you have any of those Cubans? By the way, have I told you how, not only are yours (Cubans)so much better than mine, but how fascinating your articles are? So well written, you sir are a genius.

David Savona April 12, 2012 3:52pm ET

One of my favorite articles from our archives.

Kenny Daniels May 20, 2012 9:42pm ET

I was in Canada a few hears ago and was able to purchase some cuban cigars. Tasty but not quite what I was told about.(?) I enjoy oliva or cao more. Explain please why this was or could be?

David Savona May 21, 2012 11:03am ET

People have different tastes Kenny, so your favorites might be Oliva or CAO cigars while this article's author (and many cigar aficionados) loves Cubans.

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