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Milestones: 100 Years of La Aurora

The Dominican Republic's first cigarmaker celebrates its century mark
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Francis Ford Coppola, Sept/Oct 03

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The company has been growing Corojo wrapper since the 1999/2000 crop and culling the best leaves from its farms, as well as from other tobacco bales. "We've been saving each year and each crop, bales of the better filler and the binder," says Blanco. The cigars will be individually numbered, as will the boxes.

Empresa León Jimenes is celebrating the birthday in other ways, inaugurating a 10-story, $10 million corporate office building in Santo Domingo, publishing two books, and opening a cultural center in Santiago. The shrinkage of the cigar segment among the company's holdings continued this year, as León Jimenes expanded its banking business by acquiring the fourth-largest bank in the Dominican Republic in the summer.

Expanding its reach so that it does not depend solely on regulated interests is part of a conscious strategy at León Jimenes. "One of the targets of any government, when they want additional revenues, is they look at alcohol and tobacco. In that case, we're in the wrong industries," Fernando León says with a laugh. An experienced traveler, he laments the newest antismoking legislation in New York City. He typically smokes his cigars outside when in New York, and to his horror, he was recently asked to put out his cigar in the smoking section of a Dominican Republic restaurant.

"After lunch, I pulled out my cigar. People were smoking cigarettes—the manager said cigars are objectionable," he says. "Why let foreign influences take you to prohibit smoking in a country where tobacco is a backbone? This has been introduced by tourists. I don't understand it. If my father should come back in life, he'd die again."

Incidents such as that—which would have been unthinkable only a few years ago—make the elder León fear for the future. His sons are in for a battle that may prove tougher than guiding a burdened mule through thick, clingy mud.

"The young generation," he says, "they have to fight for the right to produce a legal product."

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