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Great Moments: Kennedy, Cuba and Cigars

Pierre Salinger
From the Print Edition:
Premier Issue, Autumn 92

(continued from page 1)

I shuddered a bit, although I kept my reaction to myself. "And, when do you need them, Mr. President?"

"Tomorrow morning."

I walked out of the office wondering if I would succeed. But since I was now a solid Cuban cigar smoker, I knew a lot of stores, and I worked on the problem into the evening.

The next morning, I walked into my White House office at about 8 a.m., and the direct line from the President's office was already ringing. He asked me to come in immediately.

"How did you do Pierre?" he asked, as I walked through the door.

"Very well," I answered. In fact, I'd gotten 1,200 cigars. Kennedy smiled, and opened up his desk. He took out a long paper which he immediately signed. It was the decree banning all Cuban products from the United States. Cuban cigars were now illegal in our country.

The embargo complicated my life. The only time I could get a few Cuban cigars was when I traveled abroad with the President to countries like France, Austria and Great Britain. But then, in late May 1962, I went alone to Moscow for the first time. I met for two days with Nikita Khrushchev, talking face to face with the Soviet leader. As our meeting came to end, Khrushchev turned to me.

"Gospodin Salinger, I see you like cigars. Well, I don't, and yesterday I received a wonderful present from Fidel Castro. I'm going to give it to you." He waved at an assistant who brought over a huge wooden box with the Cuban flag encrusted in the top, and inside were 250 gorgeous Cuban cigars. My first thought was I couldn't take them to the United States because it was illegal. But then I thought I was traveling with a special Presidential diplomatic passport, and I would have no trouble at U.S. Customs. I decided then and there to take them home and share them with the President.

When I arrived back in the office, the President immediately wanted to talk to me about the Khrushchev meetings. But I interrupted him.

"I made a killing in Moscow, Mr. President. I got 250 Cuban cigars."

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Comments   2 comment(s)

John LaPorta — port charlotte, florida, usa,  —  February 3, 2012 11:06pm ET


RT Elkin — Coram, NY, 11727,  —  April 1, 2012 8:43am ET

Funny thing is, Salinger wrote an article for the New Yorker denying the event ever occurred....

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