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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

(continued from page 2)

Shanken: You are saying that you do not smoke even in the privacy of your home by yourself?

Castro: No.

Shanken: Not even a puff?

Castro: No. No.

Shanken: Not even a little puff?

Castro: Not one....A few days ago, I was in a meeting with a large Spanish firm. It was Tabacalera [the Spanish tobacco monopoly]. And they were analyzing different cigars and all that. And I did not try any cigars, even though it might have benefited our economic relations with them. I remember the quality of cigars and how a great cigar should be. (He picks up a Cohiba Esplendido.) They should not be too compact. And they should burn very evenly. Even if you light them in one corner, they soon come to an even burn. With other cigars, if you do that, they continue to burn unevenly throughout the smoke.

What I used to smoke was the Cohiba, which was the one that was developed in the last 23 years. It was the 23 years that I smoked after the victory of the Revolution. It was the Cohiba that I preferred.

Shanken: Which size did you prefer?

Castro: It wasn't this one [points to the Esplendido (Churchill size)]. It was the smaller one [the Corona Especial]. I'll tell you something about the Cohiba. The Cohiba did not exist as a brand in Cuba. But one man who used to work for me as a bodyguard, I used to see the man smoking a very aromatic, very nice cigar, and I asked him what brand he was smoking. He told me that it was no special brand, but that it came from a friend who makes cigars and he gave them to him. I said, let's find this man. I tried the cigar, and I found it so good that we got in touch with him and asked him how he made it. Then, we set up the house [the El Laguito Factory], and he explained the blend of tobacco he used. He told which leaves he used from which tobacco plantations. He also told us about the wrappers he used and other things. We found a group of cigar makers. We gave them the material, and that was how the factory was founded. Now Cohiba is known all over the world. That was over 30 years ago.

Shanken: Where does the name Cohiba come from?

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