Cigar Aficionado

Out of the Humidor

Dear Marvin, 

The Casa de Cuba in Tampa, Florida, an institution of Cuban exiles, lovers of freedom and zealous defenders of human rights, are responding from a high moral ground against those who defend the dictatorship imposed on our country for four decades at the cost of thousands of our countrymen gunned down, imprisoned, facing shortages of the basic goods needed to survive, and the millions of them who have been denied their liberty and dignity in the country where they were born.  

Christians in the world abhor the attitude of Judas, the disciple, who turned over the Son of God for a few coins. We, the exiled Cubans, in unison with those who reside in our captive island, feel repugnance against those who stand behind democracy (which exists in the United States) to sell for a bit of money the prestige of a magazine like the one you direct, and dedicate the great majority of your articles to defend the bloody regime of the Castro brothers.  

Our martyrs, from their place in heaven where they can be found, feel misery for you, and we all ask that God forgives your souls, and that you repent like Judas did for the treason against our Cuban people.  

Oscar Rodriguez
President, Casa de Cuba
Tampa, Florida  

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Dear Marvin,  

As a reader of Cigar Aficionado, I was impressed with your June 1999 issue regarding Cuba and cigars. My mother was born in Cuba and worked in the cigar factories of Tampa, Florida. Accordingly, I know something about cigars!  

However, I write to inform you that for over two and a half years I have worked closely with the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C. You and your managing editor, Gordon Mott, should take great pride in the magazine's June issue. The magazine is informative, succinct and balanced. Not any of the major newspapers or periodicals have presented such an informative and timely piece.  

I take a back seat to no one in my belief that America is the greatest democracy mankind has known. But my country's policy toward Cuba is wrong. With the Cold War over, there is no rational explanation to continue the embargo. The present policy is indefensible and inconsistent with American values and self interests. 

Albert A. Fox Jr.
Washington, D.C.  

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Dear Marvin,  

I read with great interest your recent issue dedicated to the Cuban embargo and tourist guide to Cuba; I, however, felt it was missing some important attractions: Prisión de Boniato--whose star attraction is Alejandro Mustafá Reyes, who is serving a 20-year sentence for the "crime" of trying to escape the island you are promoting. His 21-year-old son was murdered as he was swimming in the bay towards his escape boat. Further, if you were to go to Prisión Combinado del Este, you would meet another attraction: Arturo Suarez Ramos. He is serving a 30-year prison term. His "crime" also was trying to escape the "paradise" you mentioned in your magazine.  

Further up the east coast is another tourist attraction you many want to inform your readership of: Prisión de Máxima Severidad Kilo 8, Camaguey. Featured attraction is Julio Alvarez Lopez, who has been reported "beaten to death" on three different occasions. He will be an attraction for the next 20 years. A little further to the east is Prisión de Ariza. As you enjoy the latest issue of Cigar Aficionado and puff on your Cohiba, you can meet Pedro Genaro Barrera Rodriguez. This is a great attraction. Mr. Rodriguez is 79 years of age. He was accused of "intellectual sabotage against the revolution." What is that? He will be an attraction for another 18 years.  

Still further east on this "tropical paradise" is Carcel de Boniato in Santiago de Cuba, the former home town of Bacardi Corp. Here you can see Jorge Pelegria Ruiz. He was accused of trying to leave this wonderful destination you are promoting. Your visitors can actually see what happens to a human being, with chronic hepatitis, who is denied medical attention.   I could go on with literally thousands of examples to make my point. Have you ever thought of this great irony? Why do people risk their lives, and that of their loved ones, to escape this "paradise" you are promoting?  

As a cigar lover, I have over the years read most of your issues, and genuinely enjoy your magazine; but I cannot understand, under any stretch of my imagination, your coziness with Fidel Castro. I read your editorial and your qualifiers in the magazine, but I submit to you, that you cannot separate the two issues.   Last, I find most ironic the fact that over the years the number one issue cigar lovers complain about in your magazine is restrictions on where they can or cannot smoke cigars. They constantly ask, where are their rights? Please be aware that in the paradise you promote, people have been dying by the thousands since 1959, fighting for some real basic rights. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion.  

Ramiro A. Ortiz
Miami, Florida  

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Dear Marvin,  

The milestone June issue goes a long way in conveying to its readers the truth about Cuba, which definitely can be found on the island and not generally in the U.S. media.  

Exemplary of the disinformation by the U.S. government is the description of its policy toward Cuba as an "embargo." This is a euphemism utilized by Uncle Sam to hide its mendacity in attempting to lay siege to the people of Cuba in order to degrade and dismantle their revolutionary government. The correct term describing U.S. policy is "economic blockade," a term used by all except the United States--a term used by 157 countries that recently voted against U.S. policy in the United Nations--a term more accurately describing what is really economic war or attempted genocide.  

The term "embargo" used in the Cigar Aficionado June issue is a legal interference with trade. U.S. policy is not only illegal but immoral.  

Harry K. Nier Jr.
Denver-Havana Friendship/Sister City Project
Denver, Colorado  

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Dear Marvin,  

I am writing you today to commend you on your June issue. Being a 25-year-old graduate student living in Miami, Florida, it is extremely rare to come across such an objective piece relating to the situation in Cuba. If you happen to be based in south Florida, I recommend that you invest in some blockades and insurance immediately because the picketers and pipe bombs are bound to follow. Unfortunately, that is the current situation in south Florida, and it has reached the point where I am forced to write this letter in anonymity. It is ironic that the embargo is a tool designed to ultimately bring democracy to Cuba, and yet I can't even practice the freedom of speech in regards to this subject without doing so in hiding for my own protection.  

I do realize that this is a painful subject to many Cuban residents of the south Florida community, having "lost everything" to the Castro regime (although I was never quite sure on how some of them managed to make it back so quickly), but I can't help feel that our policy towards Cuba is somewhat similar to the behavior of a degenerate gambler--we keep playing at high stakes, hoping for that big score. Forty years later, the Association of World Health reports that "the U.S. embargo has dramatically harmed the health and nutrition" of the same people that we're trying to keep from oppression.  

Supporters of the embargo feel that the suffering of the Cuban people will become so unbearable that they will eventually rise up and overthrow their political leaders. In recent years, conditions have become unbearable, but rather than overthrowing their government, these people are risking their lives on rafts and washing up on our shores. Should we now have the CIA secretly train these people for an invasion--or hasn't that been done before?  

Every single ally we have, with the exception of Israel, which does happen to have investments in Cuba, condemns the U.S. embargo. The fact that this policy remains in place continues to elude me. As a result, the people living in Cuba continue to suffer, and I feel that as Americans, we are being denied our rights to travel to the island. I consider myself a fairly intelligent individual, but the U.S. embargo is one policy that I cannot comprehend. I thank you for this opportunity to voice my opinion, and I congratulate you on an informative issue.

A Voice of Generation X
South Florida  

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Dear Marvin,  

I am a U.S. Marine currently serving as a Marine security guard at the U.S. Interests Section Havana, Cuba. I have been an avid reader of your magazine for the past three years, and for the most part have enjoyed every issue; that is, until the June 1999 issue.  

In this particular issue, Cigar Aficionado appears to be promoting Cuba for tourism. If so, why? Do you realize how many Americans come to this country in violation of U.S. law? Americans often stand out from other tourists, making them a target for petty theft and muggings. Sometimes this occurs just because they are Americans. If, in the process, they lose their passport and other such necessities, they must come to the Interests Section for help. Never mind that a hefty fine can be imposed by our government should it decide to enforce the terms of the current embargo.  

Obviously, you have forgotten that the Cuban government does not like the United States very much. The propaganda on every street corner reinforces the Cuban government ideology that the United States is fully responsible for all of the problems that exist here. This country is not exactly benevolent in nature towards its people. It denies them basic human rights (such as freedom of speech). In fact, the United Nations recently condemned its human rights record.  

Nearly everyone here lives in poverty, except the Communist elite who, oddly enough, must suffer newer cars, better living conditions and a substantial increase in food. The price, no doubt, for protecting the masses against the capitalists, like you, to the North. I am not here to discuss the politics of it all. I believe you are wrong in promoting tourism to a country where one man is an island unto himself and where the other 11 million citizens are just passing time. It may be good business, but it is certainly not ethical to prop up a communist nation financially in order to keep the good times rolling.  

If your interest in this country is only cigars, shame on you, and if cigars are all you want, smoke a Dominican and support your country's economic policies.  

Sgt. Donald Quinn
U.S. Marine Corps
Havana, Cuba  

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Dear Marvin,  

My husband, Felix Ramirez-Seiijas, has been a subscriber to your magazine practically from its beginnings. I had always mentioned to him that I was concerned with the articles of political propaganda in favor of the regime dominating our country; nevertheless, he would always excuse the magazine. When you came out with Fidel Castro on the cover, I was furious, and he managed to excuse the magazine once more. However, now with your June 1999 issue, you have reached the limit of what any decent political immigrant can tolerate. Consequently, we have canceled our subscription, and two others that we had given as gifts as well.  

You begin your editor's note by saying that the issue is not about politics, and yet that is exactly what you proceed to write about. You say that the embargo used to be justified during the Cold War, but that that's not true today, that what is true is the animosity in the Cuban-American community towards the "president," whom I prefer calling "dictator" Fidel Castro. You add that the hostility is not only aimed at Castro's ideology, but at issues such as the Cuban government's seizure of homes, businesses and properties.  

As one of those Cuban-Americans, I want to clarify for you that that is precisely not the issue. I came out of Cuba at the age of 13, and we were not rich, we simply belonged to the lower middle class, as the majority of the Cubans did back in 1959. We did give up everything we had to find refuge and freedom in this country, with only a change of clothes in our bags. I was even denied a miserable $20 award I had won in a middle school math competition, because I was not a communist and was awaiting my turn to leave the country.  

Although my family was one of the lucky ones, lucky in the sense that we did not have a family member imprisoned or dead by the firing squad, many Cuban families did and still do. I remember what it was like living for eight years under a communist regime: the fear, persecution, frustration and most of all the separation of the thousands of Cuban families. I consider the latter to be Fidel Castro's worst crime and one not likely to be forgotten. You never forget the tears of your father crying over his mother's death and not being able to go to her death bed or funeral, the suffering of the Cuban people, the jails full of young Cubans, the destruction of our island, the hundreds dead by the firing squads, the women and children who died in the "March 13th tugboat massacre," the four pilots of Brothers to the Rescue, etc.... this list could be endless.  

We might not have been rich then, but we have worked hard and thanks to our persistence, determination, and to God, we are rich now and we are awaiting and fighting in every way we can to liberate our island and go rebuild it. Most of all, we are rich in dignity and morals, and that is something, Mr. Shanken, that I think you lack a lot. You have provided a platform in your magazine to decadent political rats like Raul Castro and Ricardo Alarcon, allowing then to write about their pathetic excuses for a revolution in ruins; surprisingly, the only opposing view is the one from Sen. Jesse Helms. Where are the articles from the dissidents? Did you visit any? As I can see, all you show in your "tourist guide" are the numerous kinds of tourist traps that the dictator has created in the island. Do you show the jails? Have you ever visited one? Do you show the faces of the hunger-stricken Cubans or the thousands of rafters that risk their lives every day? I wonder why they are leaving, Mr. Shanken? No, you took the best photographers with their sophisticated cameras to take pictures and glamorize this "paradise"; yes, it used to be a paradise, it used to be many things. Now, all that is left is the natural beauty, but it is a country in ruins.  

I want to end this by answering the question that you propose on the cover of your magazine. "Is it time to end the embargo?" No, Mr. Shanken, but I will tell you what it's time to do. It is time for an old and failed dictator to step down, free all the political prisoners, and hold free elections in Cuba. Only then will Cuba be the country that all the Cubans wish for and deserve, and the paradise that tourists will truly enjoy: a free country again. 

Conchi Ramirez-Seijas
Miami, Florida  

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Dear Marvin,  

It took a lot of courage for your managing editor, Gordon Mott, to get on the radio recently with the Miami Cubans, but he survived. I imagine you and he will receive a lot of hate mail. No matter what kind of mail you receive, my advice to you is to investigate the facts carefully, since the Cuban way of "proof" is not the American way of known facts. This I learned the hard way in the past year.  

As a Connecticut citizen for 33 years and now a Miami resident, I was amazed at the control that the Cuban people here in Miami, represented by a group called La Fundacion Cubana, have on everything that is written about Cuba. Here, this is accepted, and the so-called "Foundation" is feared, as I believe it has a lot of power in this county (not to say country). I personally do not fear them or anyone here, as freedom of speech has been part of my life since birth and I refuse to be intimidated by anybody, especially exiles, who as a favor were given the privilege to enter this country but now want to run it according to their interests.   Intelligent non-Miami Cubans (even as close as Broward County) and others from the rest of the U.S.A. know about this organization but are not as affected by them.

The Sun-Sentinel in Broward County has printed a few "lift the embargo" stories that only radio station director Francisco Aruca has had the nerve to read on the radio. As you may know, Francisco Aruca has been labeled as a Communist and Castro lover. I wanted to hear him, to form my own opinion (as my brain is not yet owned by the Foundation) and I am still indecisive on exactly what he is. I have asked him via correspondence and received no reply. His program does portray Castro in a different light, but he also dissects local corruption, so sometimes he is worth listening to. We must have both points of view, not just one, as always.  

I am for the lifting of the Cuban embargo. I am not a Communist, never lived under that regime nor want to, but I am now engaged to a Cuban man and his plight is my plight. I want his son to be able to have a decent job, food, an apartment, be able to visit us here, if he chooses.   I have analyzed the Cuban problem as an American rather than a Hispanic. I feel that the people here in Miami against lifting the embargo are those that came in the 1960s, the elite, and are acting emotionally rather than practically.

Their hate for Fidel Castro (which is understandable, don't get me wrong) blinds them on anything else that may be on the table. They have never read about the art of negotiation, nor do they realize that this great country of ours has succeeded in negotiating problems worse than the Cuban problem. Most of the younger Cuban generation and the Cuban exiles that have just arrived in floats have a different point of view than those 1960s exiles and their descendants, but they are afraid to speak without retaliation. (Remember that these people came from a communist country where they could not speak, and it's hard to break that tradition.) Take your magazine, for example: some exiles thought they had the right to ban it from the Miami airport! They actually thought they could get away with it. You have lawyers; imagine the little guy. Don't think for one glorious minute that the woman official at the airport who has been made the scapegoat in this incident made that decision.  

Additionally, the '60s exiles prohibit any Cuban from visiting the island and/or sending money to their families (and condemn them as well), reason being that this helps Fidel Castro maintain his leadership in the island. They use themselves as examples of not providing Castro with dollars and say that if they did it, why not the recent arrivals? The answer is this (in my humble opinion): the 1960s exiles usually were the very rich and either sent their kids first and at a later time finally were able to leave, or the most fortunate were able to get their whole family out.  

The latter exodus (a.k.a. Marielitos and balseros) were lucky if one family member was able to depart, leaving their family behind. I mean their whole family, i.e. wife, children, mother, father, brothers, uncles, etc. How can these people turn their backs on their family? That would be cruel, mean, despótico, plus--something the earlier exiles keep forgetting--these are matters of the heart; these are loved ones, not just acquaintances. So again I ask you, who is the cruelest of them all?  

Everything here in Miami has to do with Cuba. No wonder the Americans left this town a long time ago. I now know why most of the other Latin countries are not sympathetic about the Cuban cause. Cubans have forgotten about anything else but their own fate.  

I know this is a long letter, but I just want to ask you to please, as a journalist, do not be intimidated by the Cubans in Miami. They have done enough harm rather than good for Cuba. After 40 years of emotional jargon, it is time for Plan B, and our government must take control of the situation to protect us Americans who still believe that this is our country and as such we should run it the way we see fit. What happened to our rights? Nobody is watching out for us.  

Thanks for listening to this frustrated American here in Miami. I don't hate the Cubans--I live with one--but I do hate their persistence on keeping an embargo that has not done anything for their cause (freedom?) in 40 years. If they are hardheaded, Castro is worse, but they have the same mentality. Who will beat whom? It is a vicious cycle.  

L. Wagner
Miami, Florida