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Checkpoint Churchill

Alejandro Benes
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 1)

"Goddammit!" He was covered with dust and pointing across the street. A building was on fire. He wanted to do a standup. From the building, young boys were running, carrying packages, and this provided a great backdrop. The camera crew walked over to the correspondent and he began to record. The producer, wiping his eyes with a towel he had thought to bring from the hotel, noticed that the young looters were carrying bundles and boxes of cigars and shouting out, "¡Un dólar!" One dollar, they offered, for a bundle of Joya de Nicaraguas, arguably the best non-Cuban cigars available in those years. All shapes and sizes. Walking across the street, the producer examined the building more closely and saw that it was the back of the place that was on fire. The smoke was heavy. He yelled to the crew to come over and get some footage.

What was not on videotape was the rescuing by the crew itself of many Joya de Nicaragua cigars. The producer personally went deeper into the building and provided safe passage to 200 Churchills.

Four years later, sitting in his office in the United States, the correspondent received a phone call form a claims agent of a Connecticut-based insurance company, the same one that held the policy on the cigar factory in Estelí.

"Sir," the insurance man asked of the correspondent, "were you in Estelí around the end of 1978 or beginning of 1979?"

"Yes," came the answer, along with a look of worry on the correspondent's face.

"Did you, by chance, witness the burning of a cigar factory?"

"Yes," the correspondent answered, fearing that he had been tracked down and discovered to have "rescued" the cigars.

"And sir," the insurance man continued, "would you describe the situation in Estelí at the time as one of 'civil strife'?"

"Well, yeah, you could certainly call it that," the correspondent assured him.

More than a decade passed after that conversation and the producer found himself again in Miami, again in a cigar store, this time with the son of one of the former owners of the Estelí factory. The producer recounted the story to the young man. The son had the last chapter of the tale.

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