Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Fred Thompson, March/April 2009
Your series of articles on the "Cuba question" could not have been timelier, better considered or more thoughtfully written. In my opinion, you have truly lifted Cigar Aficionado to the ranks of serious political discourse (of course I and many others have long considered your thoughts on smoke and other good things most serious indeed).
Instead of complaining about the lack of a market for Cuban cigars, you took the high road of focusing on what matters most to generations of Americans and Cubans—family and freedom. You took the time to provide the backstory and history for your position and then intelligently argued it. The authors were not Pollyanna, but rooted in the difficult political realities. Your article on the human element of the current failed policy—agriculture and the Robainas—provided important perspective.
John D. Porter III Charlotte, North Carolina
I had decided not to renew my subscription to Cigar Aficionado before my last issue simply because it was all about Cuba. The February issue was the last straw. Check it out: 1) Editors' note 2) "Memo to President Obama" 3) "Talking with Castro" 4) "Cigars and Cuba: 50 Years of History" 5) "Inside Havana" 6) "After the Storms" If I want a Cuba magazine, I will purchase one. I suggest you print Cigar Aficionado in Spanish and sell it in Cuba.
Alfred Bensmiller Naples, Florida
I agree there needs to be a change of policy, but this needs to come from Havana, not Washington. History has demonstrated that trade embargoes do work if employed vigorously; case in point: South Africa. You are correct that "the good people of Cuba" have been punished long enough, but ending the U.S. trade embargo will not automatically solve 50 years of suffering. The U.S. is the only country that imposes a trade embargo. Why haven't circumstances changed? You also mention our relations with China, Vietnam, and even talks with North Korea as some sort of justification for approaching this regime. Does this mean three wrongs make a right? Let us not confuse the issue; Cuba's plight is not due to our so-called "failed policy," it is due to 50 years of a brutal communist dictatorship. I sincerely believe, in the not-too-distant future, Cuba will become a free, democratic and prosperous nation. This will be accomplished by its own courageous initiatives, led by a new generation, and not through negotiations with fading hard-liners.
Norbert Cardenas Miami, Florida
In her article in the February 2009 issue ("Memo to President Obama"), Julia Sweig from the Council on Foreign Relations encourages President Obama to lift the embargo that the United States has maintained on Cuba for nearly 50 years. She argues that this is in the American national interest. I disagree. The goal of Cuban authorities has been to maintain themselves in power in perpetuity, even at the expense of improving the living conditions of Cubans, and to undermine the only country that stands in the way — the United States. Naturally, those authorities lend support to countries that have the same aspirations. This explains why Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported how Fidel Castro, while visiting Iran in May 2001— just four months before 9/11— proudly proclaimed that "Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees." Just last September, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque indicated that the U.S. embargo had forced Cuba to spend more than $89 billion to get goods and services elsewhere. This is money well spent to keep Americans safe and to keep America on its feet.
Despite many overtures by U.S. administrations to lend a helping hand to the Cuban authorities, they have all been rebuffed. When President Carter tried to open a U.S. interests section in Cuba, the Cuban government responded by sending many jail inmates with criminal records and patients with mental illnesses to the United States via the Mariel boatlift. After President Clinton eased up on travel and remittance restrictions, Havana reciprocated by shooting down two U.S. civilian planes in international waters. Although President George W. Bush offered humanitarian aid five times to help out with the ravages of two hurricanes, Raúl Castro turned them down. These examples show that Cuban authorities are not interested in any bilateral agreements with the U.S.
Thus, it is not the United States that needs to change. It is the Cuban government that needs to open up to the free world. When Cuban authorities free all political prisoners without any quid pro quos, call for free elections that are monitored by international organizations, embrace a private economic model and set up a mechanism for settling U.S. property claims from seizures after the Cuban revolution, it will be appropriate for President Obama to change previous U.S. policy.
Jorge E. Ponce Burke, Virginia
When I was given a travel humidor that was stuffed with 18 cigars, I could not imagine how it would impact me. Each cigar was a different flavor and style. I celebrated Christmas about a month early with my family because I was being deployed on my fifth tour from home. During this deployment I would be away for roughly 18 Sundays and with the gift I would be able to count down to my return in an Advent calendar style.
I recently started to smoke cigars with my brothers-in-law during our family Sunday time. They and my wife, Tracy, felt it important for me to be able to carry on the tradition just as they would in my absence. Being able to get a break and relax on a Sunday in the North Arabian Gulf is hard enough, but when the time comes around, I cherish the Sundays that I had and will have when I go back home.
Now that I have shared that, I write about the true impact of that gift. My first son was born five days before I departed on my most recent U.S. Navy adventure. Being able to catch that hour on my Sundays has given me a chance to think back on the few short days I was able to hold my son Jeffery the II. At the same time it allows me to close my eyes and dream about the many more days after my return that I will be able to spend with him.
I have been in the Navy for about 11 years and most deployments have come and gone with ease. I'm a chief now and have the brotherhood of my fellows and the backing of my crew. Nonetheless, not one of these great bonds holds a candle to the "Puff" and "Eyes closed" I do on my Sundays with my son. Until my return, light one up this Sunday for family and cherish the days in between them.
BMC(SW/AW) Jeffery J. Carne Virginia Beach, Virginia
Last month we sailed to England in the largest suite on the seas, one of the two 2,500 square-foot, bi-level accommodations on the Queen Mary 2. I couldn't smoke in the suite, nor on the huge private balcony outside, overlooking the stern. On this completely filled voyage (2800 passengers, 1400 crew) the most colorful, unique place was the Churchill Cigar Bar, a small room within the Commodore's Lounge, all the way forward, that seated less than 20 people. It was filled every night after dinner. Men in tuxedos and the five or six women in gowns on the formal nights, and the denizens of the place were out of a good novel. It was a quarter mile from our suite (the entire length of the ship) but was filled with bonhomie, great brandy, and Cuban cigars. When my wife finally agreed to join me, she readily acknowledged it was the most interesting aspect of the entire seven-day crossing.
It wasn't so much an Atlantic crossing as it was time travel back to the 30s, when good cigars, fine wine, and interesting conversation were so much more commonplace. Thanks for your help in trying to recreate it whenever you can!
Alan Weiss East Greenwich, Rhode Island