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Interview: Francisco Padron, Cubatabaco

Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Groucho Marx, Spring 93

(continued from page 3)

CA: --to produce the 60 to 70 million export quality cigars?
Padron: We are not getting all that we need, but there is going to be a very good crop if the weather is okay.

CA: So what is the limiting condition to produce more quality cigars? The weather, finances, fertilizers, what?
Padron: In normal conditions, it is a question of climate. But right now, it is a question of finances.

CA: What do you need the money for? The agricultural aspect? Inventory? Labor?
Padron: No, agriculture.

CA: When did you peak? What was the maximum you had for export? How large did your cigar shipments get at their peak?
Padron: We used to produce 120 million cigars for export.

CA: How long ago was that?
Padron: A couple of years ago.

CA: Aficionados say if you want to buy the best quality Cuban cigars, like Punch Punch, Hoyo Double Coronas, Montecristo No. 2, Cohiba Robusto and Esplendido, that you must go to England or Switzerland to buy them. Are there certain markets that get the best quality and the other markets that get the second quality?
Padron: No. No. That is not true. The only difference in the past was the former socialist countries. We were delivering to them machine-made cigars by the millions.

CA: One cigar merchant in Geneva, Switzerland, claims that he and his father actually come to Cuba to hand select cigars. Does that actually happen?
Padron: Nobody can do that.

CA: I want to go back to your government's attitude and philosophy regarding cigars. We have read a lot in the newspaper that there is a strong emphasis on tourism to bring in dollars, and that the sugar business is down. The nickel business is down. You have had problems with building the nuclear plant and so forth. It would seem to me that a few years ago tobacco was, economically speaking, relatively unimportant to the government, but today it is realizing that Cuban cigars create great prestige for the country. From a government standpoint, has there been a change in attitude in the last few years?
Padron: No. There is another problem. When we had all that we needed to produce our crop it was not a problem. But when the financial problem started, Fidel found that he must give cigars priority in order to maintain the quality. Fidel said to be careful. We must give priority to cigars because it is very important.

CA: For many years, Winston Churchill, wherever he was, held a cigar in his hand or mouth. For many years, you would never see a photo of Fidel without a cigar. About eight years ago, he stopped smoking because of the social and health issues in Cuba. People were smoking too much. He decided that he would stop smoking and set a good example for his people. Does he still take an interest in cigars? Does he ever go to the Vuelta Abajo or to the factories?
Padron: He goes to see the cigar production. He has been interested in cigars since he was a very young fellow.

CA: But he doesn't smoke anymore?
Padron: No, he doesn't. He says that sometimes he still dreams about smoking a cigar.

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