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A Conversation With Fidel

Marvin R. Shanken travels to Havana for an extensive interview with Fidel Castro.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, interviewed Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana on February 3, 1994 at the Palace of the Revolution. The interview focused on cigars, but touched on the United States trade embargo and President Castro's future.

Shanken: How important are cigars to Cuba?

Castro: It is one of our most important export items. It is also one of our main sources of revenues. It is also an important factor for us in the domestic market. In addition to that, we have the hard currency which comes from exporting cigars. Cigars are one of the four or five most important items of export that we have. First, it's sugar, then nickel, fish, tourism. These are the main items that provide revenues. Biotechnology is gaining ground as well as the pharmaceutical industry. And now cigars are more or less in the fifth place. Historically it has been very important.

Shanken: Is there any Cuban export that carries as much prestige today?

Castro: The cigar has made our country famous. It has given prestige to our country. Cuba is known among other things for the quality of its cigars.

Shanken: It's also a craft with great tradition. When you feel it, when you smell it, when you look at it, you realize that great dedication has gone into the creation of every cigar. People have spent their lives making the cigars--some of the rollers have been making cigars for 30, 40, 50 years. To an aficionado, cigar making is like one of Beethoven's symphonies.

Castro: You are right. Lots of things go into making Cuban cigars, both in cultivation and in the manufacturing. To tell you the truth, it is very hard work, especially growing quality tobacco. It requires a lot of operations. The cultivation and choosing the right leaves for the cigars are really an art. And then making cigars is really beautiful. It also very much relates to the history of Cuba and to the struggle of independence for Cuba. Many of the people who migrated to Cuba later worked in the cigar factories, and they were very active in the struggle for independence during colonial times.

Shanken: When you build a warehouse or a road, it's hard work, but it's much different than making a cigar. Cigar lovers appreciate the craft. Other people, nonsmokers, have no idea about the labor and passion that goes into tobacco farming and cigar making.

Castro: Yes.

Shanken: For many years, the world saw photographs of you smoking a cigar or holding a cigar in your hand, as you did just a moment you are now doing. (Castro picks up a Cohiba Esplendido with his right hand.) For the past seven or eight years, you have stopped smoking cigars. Don't you miss them?

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