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Cuba's New Cigar Chief

The Spanish co-head of Habanos tries to strike the right balance between tradition and modernization
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Vegas, Mar/Apr 2006

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JS: The increase in prices was also applied to the domestic market, right?

BJSC: Yes, because it doesn't make sense if there are major differences [between the domestic and export markets]. When distortion happens in the market, it becomes very hard to control parallel trading.

JS: Aren't the prices here in Cuba very similar to those in Spain?

BJSC: No. They are still 20 percent lower [in Cuba].

JS: But with the exchange rate and commissions they are more expensive in my opinion. And then you have to deal with the customs people at the airport who can treat you like a criminal. It's too difficult.

BJSC: I understand perfectly well. Let's see.

JS: It's too difficult. It's almost easier to buy in the Madrid airport for some people than to buy in Cuba.

BJSC: As for the situation with the airport, you are totally right. They are enforcing the law, and the law is to present invoices for your purchase. You will need an invoice even for one box of 25 cigars. The reason behind this is that we have had problems with informal channels of distribution.

JS: You mean smuggling….

BJSC: Well, not really smuggling. It's just that people would spend $20,000 in cigars because it was allowed. The other thing is that when these people return to their countries, they should not be able to bring in $20,000 in cigars without the proper documents, but somehow they manage to take them into the country. So yes, officials at the airport are really enforcing this regulation. This of course is no excuse for these officials to act pushy or rudely. They can ask for documents in a polite way.

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