A day that will live on in infamy, February 7th 1962 will forever be remembered as the last time that Americans could legally buy a cigar in the United States of America. In fact, John F. Kennedy famously stockpiled a cache of his favorite Havana’s just hours before he imposed a trade embargo on the Communist island.
As the story goes, President Kennedy ordered his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to buy him as many of his favorite Cuban cigars (H.Upmann petit coronas) as he could get his hands on. President Kennedy even held off on signing the Cuban trade embargo until the soon-to-be contraband was safely inside the White House. Salinger was given just a half-day to accomplish this task.
The next morning, Salinger recalled in rare video footage of his storytelling, that he had bought approximately 1,200 of Cuba\'s finest exports – a tremendous feat that JFK applauded as \'Fantastic!\' just before he signed the decree that banned all of the communist country\'s products from the United States. Although Washington already had some limited sanctions in place, Kennedy\'s decision was the beginning of a comprehensive ban on trade with Cuba that remained intact until recently.
Relations between the U.S. and Cuba weren’t always so icy, in fact Cuba and America began a rather chummy relationship in 1898, at the end of the Spanish-American War. A defeated Spain signed over rights to its territories in the area, which included Puerto Rico, Guam, and Cuba, to America.
The U.S. subsequently granted Cuba independence, under the conditions that the U.S. could intervene in the internal affairs of the island (later relinquished), and that it be granted a permanent naval base in Guantanamo Bay. For the next 50 years, the U.S. and Cuba enjoyed a friendly relationship, with America helping to quell rebellions and heavily investing in the Cuban economy. Cuba even became an American mafia conference center in 1946.
Then came the Cuban Revolution, and on New Year’s Day 1959 everything changed. Fidel Castro and his guerillas successfully overthrew the government of President Fulgencio Batista. The United States, which supported Castro at the time, immediately recognized the new regime, although it expressed some concern over Castro’s increasingly communist tendencies. Castro was invited to the U.S. just three months later, and met with Vice President Richard Nixon, all while wearing his trademark green fatigues. It was a rare moment of friendship between the two countries, and one that would not be repeated for another 50 years.
By 1960, the Cuban government had seized private land, nationalized private companies, including several subsidiaries of U.S. corporations, and heavily taxed American imports. President Eisenhower responded by imposing severe trade restrictions on everything except food and medical supplies. Castro responded by expanding trade with the Soviet Union instead. The U.S. responded by cutting all diplomatic ties to Cuba, and the two countries have been talking through Switzerland ever since.
The early 1960s were tumultuous years filled with subversive, top-secret U.S. attempts to kill, maim or humiliate Fidel Castro. Perhaps the most famous of these events, the Bay of Pigs, was the CIA’s failed attempt to overthrow Castro by training Cuban exiles for a ground attack. Later attempts on Castro’s life consisted of everything from chemicals to make his beard fall out to exploding sea shells.
The darkest moment in the history between the U.S. and Cuba came on the morning of October 15, 1962 when American spy planes discovered that the Soviet Union was building missile bases in Cuba.
President Kennedy learned of the threat the following morning while he was still wearing his pajamas, and for the next 12 days the U.S. and the Soviet Union were locked in a nuclear face-off commonly known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The incident was de-escalated only when Nikita Khrushchev accepted President Kennedy\'s secret proposal to remove U.S. missiles in Turkey in exchange for the disarming of Cuba. Within six months, the Soviet missiles were gone, but it would take much longer for America to forgive the nation that allowed them to be placed on her doorstep in the first place.
The U.S. strengthened its embargo in 1992 and again in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Act after Cuba shot down two American civilian planes. The additional restriction applied the embargo to foreign countries that traded with Cuba not just with Cuba itself. The last decade has seen the U.S. tighten and then relax restrictions depending on the political climate. For example, a 2001 agreement to sell food to Cuba in the aftermath of Hurricane Michelle has remained in place, which makes the United States Cuba\'s main supplier of food, with sales reaching $710 million in 2008.
President Obama\'s announcement in 2009 that he would lift remittance and travel restrictions for those that still had family in Cuba marked a small, but significant thaw in the U.S.\'s position toward Havana. Back then, President Obama also agreed to let telecommunications companies pursue business in the country, which still has roughly the same number of phone lines as it did 60 years ago. President Raúl Castro, who took over for his brother Fidel after he underwent surgery in 2006, had indicated that he would like to open a dialogue with the U.S., which happened behind closed doors.
Much to the surprise of the world, the White House announced back in December 2014 that it was moving towards normalizing relations with Cuba.
However, it seems that everything is going to change now, with the election of Donald Trump for President of The United States.
Mr. Trump has declared his intentions to undo many of Obama\'s executive orders and, specifically, to alter the current course of relationship with Cuba, unless the Cuban government takes positive action to address human rights and other issues that have been the core of the conflict with The U.S. we will be back at square one of the embargos against the island nation.
After Fidel Castro died in November 2016, new hopes for a dramatic change were rising but it is not unforeseeable that if the Cuban regime will not be willing to reciprocate with U.S. goodwill gestures this momentum will lead nowhere.
Ever since that day in February of 1962, American cigar aficionados have dreamt of the day when they could buy a box of La Flor Del Caney Cuban Cigars directly from the source. With the announcements by the Obama Administration that the economic embargo would be lifted and relations normalized, that dream of being able to purchase real Cuban cigars directly from the Communist island is slowly becoming a reality.
An American embassy back in Havana means that American visitors to the island will be allowed to bring back up to $400 in Cuban products, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco. For over 50 years, the ban on Cuban imports has given Cuban cigars a certain mystique in the United States, but it begs the question: are Cuban cigars really that much better?
The short answer is a hesitant yes. Cigar experts tend to rank Cuban brands, like the world famous Cohiba Cuban Cigar, very highly in taste tests. However, cigar appreciation is a matter of subjective taste, so there\'s nothing "wrong" in preferring cigars rolled in one country versus another.
But despite individual tastes, there are certain factors that are commonly used in determining how good a cigar is. These factors are often based on the quality of the soil, climate, and level of experience the grower has with tobacco production. When it comes to Cuban cigars, there may be something more to their top dog position than just the ground the plants are grown in.
When it comes to location, Cuba occupies a very special place in the world. The geography of the island, coupled with its tropical climate make Cuba an ideal place to grow quality cash crops such as sugar and tobacco. The soil of the island allows tobacco plants to produce extremely high-quality leaves, in particular the ones used for the wrappers. The wrapper is considered the most important part of the cigar and usually provides the majority of the flavor.
Soil in other Central American and Caribbean countries is very similar, but not identical, so it produces a slightly different flavor. The weather plays a major role as well. As it turns out, Cuba’s humidity is not only good for growing tobacco plants, but it’s good for drying them as well. Aging the tobacco extensively can also be a factor in the taste. Like wine, if cigars are properly aged, they get much better over the years (10 to 15 years in some cases), unlike with Romeo y Julieta Cuban Cigars, which don’t need a long aging period to appreciate.
Cubans have harvested tobacco for centuries, with evidence of the natives smoking rolled up tobacco leaves in pre-Columbian times. Large scale tobacco cultivation didn’t begin in Cuba until after Christopher Columbus acquired the island for Spain. Currently, Cuba's cigar industry is directly regulated by the government. This governmental supervision serves as quality control to ensure that all of the cigars leaving the factories are properly rolled, well made, and don’t contain any flaws or imperfections. This is especially important for producers of the La Gloria Cabana Cuban Cigar, which is entirely made by hand.
Another reason Cubans stand out is because they’re made from high quality materials and a lot of detail goes into the making of each one. It has been estimated that it takes over one hundred steps to properly produce a single Cuban cigar. The Cuban cigar industry follows a detailed creation regiment that has not changed much over the last century.
Cuba isn’t the only country in the world with a friendly climate and good soil conditions well suited for producing world-class cigar tobacco. What sets Cuba apart is that, historically, they benefitted from a strategic alliance with Spain. Cuba had great promoter in Spain, who was able to not only spread the news of good Cuban tobacco to Europe, but was also in a position to benefit from Cuba’s position as a premier tobacco producer. The Spanish crown completely took over the tobacco trade in Cuba in 1557.
Now that Spain had a vested interest in Cuba due to her natural resources, which included tobacco, they promoted Cuba as a high-quality supplier of the cash crop. Although Cuba didn’t end up playing a significant role in the supply worldwide, they dominated the top shelf markets during the nineteenth century because they had a great product and a secure place in the economic market due to the positioning done by Spain. These two factors would later help them cement their top position in a significant niche market in the 20th century, namely premium handmade cigars.
Many celebrities, musicians, and professional athletes have been fond of Cuban cigars over the years and readily smoked them, thus adding to their glamour. For example, Saint Luis Rey Cuban Cigars were the brand of choice for Frank Sinatra and James Coburn. Red Auerbach was famous for smoking a Hoyo De Monterrey Cuban Cigar before the end of Boston Celtics basketball games. Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is known to gravitate towards the Partagas Cuban Cigar. And even President Kennedy was known to delay signing the Cuban economic embargo just so he could secure a final cache of his prized H. Upmann Cuban Cigars.
It is widely accepted that Cuban cigars represent the standard by which all other stogies must be graded against. With the recent announcement by the Obama Administration about lifting the embargo against Cuba, the United States will soon have access to the Cuban cigar market in a way that most Americans alive today have never experienced.
Many tobacco industry pundits speculate that the price of Cuban cigars will initially skyrocket and then plummet as Americans get fed up with paying $30 for a Diplomatico Cuban Cigar, which is meant to be a less expensive alternative to a Montecristo Cuban Cigar. No matter what the ebb and flow of the American appetite ends up being, one thing is for certain, the cigar smoking world will never be the same again.
Does Mike's Cigars Sell
At the present moment, while it is legal to import Cuban Cigars into the country for personal use, and in limited quantities, it is not yet legal to sell them within the United States. We at Mike’s Cigars are eagerly awaiting the removal of this restriction, at which time we will surely carry all the Cuban classics!