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The First Family of Tobacco

For decades, the Oliva family of Tampa, Florida, has been supplying tobacco to many of the world's top makers of premium cigars.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

(continued from page 7)

CA: But you must have had hundreds of employees!

Oliva: Sometimes 500. They knew my face, and I knew theirs. This was important to me.

CA: It must have made it harder to leave, knowing you wouldn't return.

Oliva: Yes, it was.

CA: How did you avoid losing all your tobacco supply to Castro?

Oliva: In 1960, Cuba cultivated the last crop of tobacco that would be sorted and distinguished by farms. I took 13 manufacturers that used Cuban tobacco to Havana as guests of a communist colonel. I was their representative. I gave them and all my competitors the opportunity to buy whatever they needed. Some took my offer and others saw no threat from Castro and passed it up.

CA: What happened next?

Oliva: I committed to purchasing the entire crop of 2.5 million pounds of tobacco from the Cuban government. I was the one who agreed to pay for the sorting, stripping and handling of the tobacco, under the condition that they would allow me to supervise the entire operation and keep the crop segre-gated by farms. We opened 14 different sorting, stripping and packing operations and handled the entire crop, plus an add-itional 1.35 million pounds of tobacco from more than 20 sharecroppers. We honored the commitment and shipped the last crop of tobacco grown in Cuba by independent growers.

CA: That was quite an impressive gamble on your part, don't you think?

Oliva: Not at all. It would have been worse to do nothing--to watch everybody lose everything.

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