Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Tom Berenger, July/Aug 2007
(continued from page 1)
Once again, you've outclassed and outdone the mainstream media with your reporting on Cuba. I just finished reading your June 2007 issue entitled "Cuba Tomorrow," and once again was impressed with your insightful and balanced reporting and commentary. Everyone who cares about the Cuban issue should read James Suckling's interview of Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, because you won't find this kind of coverage in any other U.S. publication. I read every piece, including the tired, old rants from Congressman [Lincoln] Diaz-Balart (one can't help but feel that 10 years after Castro's passing, Diaz-Balart will still be writing the same diatribes).
As I read your Cuba issue, I was reminded of a recent debate on the Cuban travel ban, held in Miami. One of the panelists was anti-travel ban Congressman Jeff Flake. As Flake spoke, I couldn't help but feel that the only "foreigner" on the debate panel in this American city was this low-key, white-bread congressman from Arizona. The more I listened, and with all due respect to the other anti-ban panelist, Professor Lisandro Perez, it became clear that Flake was the lone defender of American ideals of liberty and free speech—by word and by example. He wasn't fazed by a pro-embargo panelist's idiotic charge that Flake's presence at this debate, in Rep. [Ileana] Ros-Lehtinen's district, was a sign of disrespect to the congresswoman. None of the shrill in the air fazed Flake; he wasn't moved by the weak arguments in favor of keeping the travel ban. In more ways than one, I think Flake represents the sentiments of the majority of Americans, especially those who live in the libertarian West from which he hails. And I sincerely believe that this is what scares the likes of Diaz-Balart the most. Those who favor the travel ban know what usually happens when their positions are put in front of the broader, freedom-loving American public: they simply don't hold up; they don't withstand Americans' sense of liberty and right. Just like when they were exposed to the ugliness of the Elián González episode, Americans will react in disbelief and clamor for decency and justice. They will demand that all Americans be given the right to travel and visit their relatives no matter where they may be living on this planet or when they want to travel. How ironic that a white-bread Republican from the West has become the best friend of those Miami Cubans who are dying to see their relatives in Cuba.
Miami Beach, Florida
Your latest issue about Cuba shows just how screwed up our government is. Cuba is not a threat to this country any longer and we are wasting taxpayer dollars having cigar purchases investigated. If the government cared about this country, maybe it would stop firearm sales over the Internet; maybe the tragedy of Virginia Tech never would have happened. It seems to me that administration after administration, both Republicans and Democrats, seems to think Cuba is about to invade the United States tomorrow.
A lot of economic growth can occur with economic relations with Cuba and would create lots of jobs. This country needs to rethink its priorities about our policies and make some that will be of benefit to this country. It is OK to get info on how to build a bomb on the Internet, but if you buy a Punch Double Corona you can go to jail.
As a longtime subscriber to Cigar Aficionado, I always look forward to the arrival of the magazine. But I would prefer that you continue covering articles about cigars and stay away from Cuba's political situation. I am one of the many Cubans who would rather die in freedom in the United States than return to the oppression of the communist government. Now that Raúl Castro, known as the Butcher of Santiago, is supposed to be in control in Cuba, nothing will change. Traveling to China has not changed the communist oppression in that country or improved its human rights. I believe that the key for change in Cuba can only come when human rights are honored and there are no more political prisoners in jail.
Dr. Celestino Heres
Thank you for your June 2007 issue focusing on Cuba. Gregory Mottola's article, "Travel Ban Update," gave an accurate picture of the current situation relative to travel to Cuba. What I would like to add is that there is an important bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 654, the "Export Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2007," which would once again allow Americans to travel legally to Cuba.
If you believe that U.S. citizens should have the same rights afforded to citizens of Canada, Europe, South America and the rest of the world and be able to travel to Cuba without the threat of an enormous government fine, then you should take a minute and contact your U.S. representatives and ask them to support this bill. Then you can enjoy Cuban cigars on their home territory, under the palm trees, on the white beaches of this beautiful island.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
I've subscribed to Cigar Aficionado for years now and for the most part found it to be harmless and mildly entertaining. However, your continuous fawning over Fidel has become tiresome and patently offensive. I fail to understand your apparent fascination with a brutal, two-bit dictator who has systematically tortured and murdered his own people for almost 50 years. Did you ever ask yourself why so many Cubans risk their lives just to leave the place? No, I didn't think so.
Fortunately, there will come a time (hopefully soon) when Fidel is no longer with us and the Cuban people will find a way to regain their freedom. Then, liberal sycophants like you and your self-absorbed, narcissistic Hollywood pals will have to find a new trendy cause to champion. In the meantime, there are plenty of good cigars to smoke which are not from Cuba, and other magazines to read.
I thoroughly enjoyed your June 2007 articles on the future of the trade embargo against Cuba and I would like to thank all the contributors for voicing their opinion on this matter. Rep. Diaz-Balart's contribution, though, was nothing more than rhetoric to rally his Hialeah voting base. His comparisons of Portugal's and Spain's democratic transitions to the possible political shift in Cuba are baseless and weak. These countries' success was due to the European Union's ability to bring the countries up to economic par. Cuba has no economic institutions which could do the same for them, as MERCOSUR (South America's economic institution) is not as strong as the EU. Furthermore the congressman says that we should punish the Cuban government for its human rights violations, yet the United States maintains open and friendly relations with countries who engage in larger-scale violations, such as China. This being the case, the moral high ground the representative would like to take is compromised. I hope the readers of this publication can see through the fallacies that the congressman spews as lacking evidence and credibility. We, as voters, citizens of the world and, most importantly, men who enjoy a good smoke, should not allow a congressman who manipulates his scorned Cuban-American voting bloc to direct policy that affects so many.
I was deeply touched by the June edition of Cigar Aficionado. It conjured up the aroma of Cuba's finest tobacco. The pictures and articles of Cuba took me on a melancholy trip to my homeland. I read the magazine from cover to cover and plan to read it again. As I devoured the stories, I pondered the Cuba of tomorrow. To dream of this is perhaps my claim to the things I left behind as a child. I did not experience much of life in Cuba after Fidel's takeover. My family fled like the many doctors, lawyers and educated professionals. We built roots all over the States and all over the world. Infused only by our parents' memories of a paradise gone, we learned our heritage. I still miss the beautiful beaches and fine hotels, and the men in my family miss their Cuban cigars. Tobacco is in our blood, but we are not permitted to purchase the Cuban cigar. It would be fantastic one day soon to show our children and grandchildren the mystic island, and the men can celebrate by smoking Cuban cigars legally.
Just thought I'd let you know that Big Brother and the cigar Nazis are alive and well.
On the weekends I drive a charter coach bus for extra cash. After a long day, I dropped off all my customers and headed back to the shop. I pulled out a cigar and enjoyed a moment of solitude with an unlit cigar.
The next Friday, I was called into my boss's office and told that I could not have a cigar in my mouth while driving. He said it was against the law and against company policy. The image of the company might suffer. How could the company suffer if I'm alone in the bus? "Someone might pass you and see one of our drivers with a cigar," he said. When I inquired as to how he knew I had a cigar while driving, he said he saw it on the bus cameras. When I was hired, he said the cameras on the bus were for insurance and safety issues. If the bus is in an accident, the cameras kick in and capture 10 seconds before an accident up until 10 seconds after. Also, you can engage them yourself if a customer is getting out of hand. Not a bad system to prove you weren't at fault for an accident or a customer on a party bus was drunk and unruly, but I was pissed because they were obviously spying on me. I was also pissed because I had an unlit cigar and I was not even around customers. When I mentioned this to him, he said it didn't matter. He stated I could've been ticketed by a cop for breaking federal law and it was against policy. When I asked him to show me the federal laws against unlit cigarettes/cigars and the company policy against it as well, it didn't go too well. He couldn't. It boils down to "We Say So." He who has the gold makes the rules!
I can't wait until they start targeting McDonald's and Pepsi and taxing them for medical complications from sugar and fat health risks. It is coming.
I want to tell you about someone very important in my life. A little over five years ago, I met the woman of my dreams. Her name is Danika. She is smart, beautiful, and cares a thousand times more about others than herself. She means the world to me. Shortly after meeting her, the time came that most single men detest -- meeting the parents!
I remember the day as if it were yesterday. We pulled up the drive, put the car in park and she said to me, "Now don't be nervous, my dad can be pretty intimidating." Instantaneously my heart rate skyrocketed. After entering the house and going through the proper introductions (sweaty palms and all), I was asked, "Chris, would you like to join me for a cigar on the deck?" Now, I had grown up in a household where smoking was everything but acceptable. My mother to this day still tries to make me feel guilty for enjoying one of life's true pleasures.
Contemplating the situation, I agreed. He handed me a few choices and I selected the one that, in my ignorance, looked to be the best. It was a Macanudo Robusto. We sat on the deck, smoked the cigars and watched the autumn leaves fall, all the while getting to know each other. It was the best day!
As my relationship with Danika progressed, so did my relationship with her father. He would get me cigars every time we visited. I almost didn't realize it, but my love for cigars was growing with my love for her and her family.
He has become a very big influence on my life. I go to him for advice in business, love and life. And no matter how hard the situation may be, he is always there with wise words and a great cigar for reflection.
I recently became the husband of that amazing woman. Her father and I enjoyed a Cuban Romeo y Julieta that he purchased for me in Scotland. It was the best day of my life, not just because I married the woman of my dreams, but because of the time I shared smoking with my father-in-law.
I have been a subscriber to your fantastic magazine for a few years now and, like that first meeting of the parents, my heart beats faster every time I open the mailbox and the gift of Cigar Aficionado is waiting for me inside. As I look forward to every new issue, I continue to trust that your publication will be a beacon for everyone who loves a great smoke.
Chris W. Menke
Mason City, Iowa