Fernando León Asensio, one of the most powerful men in the Dominican Republic and the former head of La Aurora S.A., the Caribbean country's oldest cigar company, died this afternoon. He was 87. León was at his home in Santiago, Dominican Republic, surrounded by his family.
The son of founder Eduardo León Jimenes, León took the helm of the company in the 1950s. León was the former blending master and was instrumental in the tobacco sector of the company, a subsidiary of Empresa León Jimenes CxA, one of the largest companies in the Dominican Republic and a part of the León family for more than 100 years. Empresa León Jimenes enjoys a virtual monopoly in the Dominican beer market, thanks to its primary brand Presidente, and has subsidiaries in banking and printing, as well as cigars. In 1963 it began making cigarettes, and for many years it made Marlboros for the Dominican market and was minority-owned by Philip Morris. (The relationship ended in 2006 when Aurora left the cigarette business.)
In addition to the Aurora brand, which is more than a century old, the company has made León Jimenes cigars since 1987. It also produces the C.A.O. Vision and flavored cigars. Its Aurora 100 Años Belicoso, produced to celebrate 100 years in the cigar business, was Cigar Aficionado magazine's No. 2 cigar of 2004.
Educated in the United States and Canada, León never neglected his company's roots in the cigar business, even though cigar sales were but a small part of the corporation. "The margins on cigars and the output of cigars is not very great. We know cigars will always be a much smaller business," said León in "100 Years of La Aurora," which ran in the October 2003 Cigar Aficionado. "We find our profits satisfactory, but it's nothing to speak of."
When asked if La Aurora would ever sell its cigar business, he replied, "No. How can you sell a son?"
Leon is survived by five sons and two daughters. More details on this breaking story will follow.