Fidel Castro Dies

Nov 26, 2016
Fidel Castro Dies

Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba for decades and was the longtime cigar-smoking symbol of the island nation, died on Friday at the age of 90. His brother Raúl announced his death on Cuban television.

Castro had been in poor health for some time, and had been largely absent from public view. In 2006, he underwent major intestinal surgery and handed over power to younger brother Raúl. In October 2012 he was said to have suffered a major stroke.

In Miami, people took to the streets in the early hours of Saturday morning as news of Castro's death filtered out. Many were shouting "Cuba libre," or "free Cuba."

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born on his father's sugarcane farm in Birán, an agricultural town in southeastern Cuba located 500 miles from Havana, on August 13, 1926. He studied law at the University of Havana, and became a lawyer, and found himself at odds with Cuba's ruling class. He founded a Revolutionary movement that culminated in his troop's seizing control of Cuba on New Year's Day 1959, deposing president Fulgencio Batista.

Castro was initially hailed as a hero by many in the Cuban cigar industry before he led sweeping changes that made Cuba's cigar factories and famous cigar brands property of the Cuban state.

"I was in Cuba when Fidel Castro came down from the hills," said Frank Llaneza, the late maker of the Honduran Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey cigar brands, in a 2002 Cigar Aficionado story. "Everyone was very happy. That changed very quickly."

In 1960, Castro's troops nationalized the Cuban cigar industry, seizing factories and fields, and claiming Cuba's cigar brands such as Partagás, Montecristo, H. Upmann and endless others as properties of the state. Cuba would do the same to other industries, resulting in the exodus of many of the country's business owners, who lost their properties and assets to nationalization.

Castro sparred famously with the United States, which declared a full embargo on Cuban goods (still referred to in Cuba as "el bloqueo," or "the blockade") in 1962. The embargo remains in effect, although U.S. President Obama has issued executive orders lessening its effects, including allowing American travellers to return home with Cuban cigars and rum for personal consumption.

One of the legends about Castro was a CIA plot to kill him with an exploding cigar, as he was nearly always seen in his younger years with a cigar in his mouth. But he said he gave up smoking cigars at the age of 59 during an exclusive interview with Marvin R. Shanken that appeared in the Summer 1994 Cigar Aficionado magazine.

"The cigar has made our country famous. It has given prestige to our country. Cuba is known among other things for the quality of its cigars," Castro told Shanken during the interview.

When asked about his love of cigars, Castro said: "I enjoy a cigar because of its aroma, its taste and watching the smoke."

Castro held various titles over the years: prime minister (1959 to 1976), president (1976 to 2008) and first secretary of Cuba's communist party (1961 to 2011). While the names have changed, his rule over the country was considered absolute up until he transferred power to his brother—and many believed he still ran the country after that.

In 1994, Castro sat down for an extensive interview with Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine. Click here to read the interview.

Video: Smoking With Castro—Marvin, Fidel And The Cohiba Connection

"I was a college student in Tampa, Florida during the late 70's. There were many expatriated Cuban families who had lost everything , with the exception of their lives, to the Cuban revolution that lived in Tampa during that time. I witnessed the Mariel boat lift and the principle of "wet foot/dry foot " evolve as the U S coast guard did everything it could to maintain safety and order as desperate asylum seekers tried to reach the shores of Miami. The worse was the uncounted overcrowded boats of immigrants who never made it across the Gulf Stream. That was my memory of Castro, thousands of hurting and good people left with no place to go but to Florida. It was in Tampa that I learned to love cigars and the wonderful and decent people of Cuba. Castro may be gone, but we need to respect our Cuban friends and let them control the future destiny of their soon to be free again country." —December 12, 2016 16:17 PM
"They should've rolled him into a Cohiba and smoked him." —December 6, 2016 09:11 AM
"I left a comment on Nov. 26 agreeing with Matt's query regarding CA's apparent "love affair" with Castro. My comment was deleted after one day. So, here goes again: Castro was a despicable man. I, too, don't understand CA's seeming obsession with him, nor with other less than savory characters who have been featured in CA. " —December 4, 2016 17:49 PM
"A tyrant who had firing squads, forced labor camps, political prisoners, denied freedom of speech , freedom of choice and repressed people for their religious beliefs and separated millions of Cuban families of whom many died at sea trying to escape his tentacles. It is unconscionable for anyone to praise this monster. May he burn in hell for ever." —December 4, 2016 09:51 AM
"I was in La Habana when the official announcement came down, prior to the announcement workers were really sprucing things up: painting, planting flowers, watering grass, cleaning statues. Before the Pope's visit they were doing the same, working like ants. Fidel was dead for a number of days maybe longer. 9 days of mourning were declared military and police all over the place, no one was on the streets after sundown, no music allowed, cabarets closed, no cabs,. La Habana was a ghost town it felt very strange. The government was very worried about the possibility of an uprising by day 3-4 things were beginning to return to normal." —December 2, 2016 12:05 PM
"Good night sweet Prince." —December 1, 2016 18:36 PM
"Hopefully Fidel Castro will be most remembered as murderous dictator who enslaved a good and decent people for 57 years. " —November 28, 2016 15:50 PM
"He will not be missed! I agree with Matt W." —November 27, 2016 11:31 AM
"You've got break a few eggs, to make an omelette. Citizens of Canada and US, really have no understanding of how hard life really is on the Cubans citizens. A country where bartenders make more income than physicians and their no 1 export is actually it's skilled labor not manufactured or raw goods. I am a Fidel fan but I am optimistic about their future and next step in their countries evolution. " —November 26, 2016 21:11 PM
"Matt Williams: I agree. But it seems that CA (i.e., Mr. Shanken) has a love affair with many nefarious characters, including Castro, Ray Lewis, Donald Trump, Rudy Guliani, Rush LImbaugh." —November 26, 2016 20:23 PM
"Good Riddance! He was a communist dictator who murdered a lot of innocent people! I don't understand your love affair with him? I will have a Cuban cigar after the people of Cuba freely elect their leader in a free and open election." —November 26, 2016 14:04 PM
"Good riddance!" —November 26, 2016 11:46 AM

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