Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard, read, raved or otherwise dealt with the news that broke during the tail end of 2014 about the United States and Cuba possibly letting bygones be bygones and starting to mend the political fences that have separated our two countries for more than 50 years? There hasn’t been this much talk about the Communist island 90 miles off our Florida coast since JFK started recalibrating the launch sequences for our ship-to-shore missiles back in October 1962. Now it looks like we’re all going to give each other a great big hug.
Of course, political implications notwithstanding, for readers of this magazine the ending of the blockade (which is what the Cubans call our embargo) would mean only two things: duck and dove hunting at Pinar del Rio will become even more of a possibility than before, and no more restrictions on Havana cigars.
But hold on a minute. Even though I wrote this column months in advance, I feel reasonably confident in stating that by the time you are reading these words, nothing of significance will have happened between U.S. and Cuban relationships. Read between the ten-point type of the newspaper stories and listen carefully to the words being mumbled by the on-camera bobble-heads and you’ll see what I mean; all Obama and Raul Castro have agreed upon was to open embassies in Washington D.C. and Havana. And I doubt that has happened yet or if it has, that is as far as it’s going to go for a while. I’m betting that travel restrictions haven’t been loosened, free trade is still as elusive for the Cuban people as it always has been under Castro’s rule, and that you still can’t find–let alone legally bring back–Havana cigars anywhere in the U.S.
No, our beloved politicians were simply looking for some headline-grabbing rhetoric to leave a legacy that would memorialize them in history books. And the ploy may have worked because there is now intense conversation among tobacconists and consumers alike concerning what the future holds for the cigar industry. Does this mean the end of cigar factories in the Dominican Republic’s free zone? Will Honduras go back to becoming more of a jungle than it already is because their tobacco crops will no longer be in demand?
Fear not, because even with all this talk about loosening up U.S.-Cuban relations, the realty is that nothing is going to change in the immediate future for cigar smokers. But then, nothing lasts forever, so when Havana cigars do once again become legal in America, here is what’s going to happen: Cuba, rightfully sensing a great untapped Mother Lode in the USA, will start exporting as many cigars as it can to our shores. And why not? Every adult human male with a Zino cutter in his pocket and an ashtray on his patio is going to want “the real deal.” Then Cuba will start gradually raising prices, to the point where those involved in this feeding frenzy will start to ask, “Wait a minute, why am I paying $35 for a Vega Robaina when I can smoke a Fuente Hemingway for $8?”
In the meantime, Cuba will start selling some of their precious tobacco (and it is precious, because they can only grow so much of it on their island) to some of the Dominican, Honduran and Nicaraguan cigar makers, who will use it in their filler blends; wrapper leaf, being much more expensive, would bump the price-per-cigar up dramatically. However, Cuba will not be selling these non-Havana producers their best filler leaf. No, they will keep that for themselves, just as they did before the embargo, when U.S. cigar makers were making “clear” all Havana cigars with less than stellar leaf. So eventually there will be a learning curve, with Cuba hopefully becoming more realistic in their pricing (although Havana cigars will almost always cost more than non-Havana cigars–it’s just a fact of life) and non-Cuban cigar makers continuing to make excellent premium smokes, both with and without Havana leaf.
Which actually will put us right back where we are today, because there are currently plenty of great new smokes coming out of the DR, Nicaragua and Honduras, and if not already on your dealer’s shelves, soon will be. Here are some of the best non-Cuban cigars I have found recently.– Article & Photography By Richard Carleton Hacker