Premium cigar lovers know Fidel Castro seized all Cuban tobacco farms and cigar
factories in the early 1960s, and drove the renowned Cuban cigar families to refuge in other countries. What
is little known, however, is how he brought the island's Golden Age of Cigars to an end.
Cuba looked to Russia to save the island's economy by importing Cuba's agricultural products. But, Russia wanted
sugar, not cigars. Castro disbanded Cuban Land, the island's leading tobacco research institute and others, and
diverted tobacco farmers and agronomists into sugar production. The no-longer-needed seed banks and extensive
records of soil and nutrients simply disappeared. Tobacco farms and factories that produced the legendary marques,
once the pride of the families who owned them, fell into the hands of collectives, under management of the
communist bureaucracy. Most of the world's most respected Grade 7 cigar rollers fled the regime. Many followed the
cigar families to the Caribbean and Central America, while others opened tiny workshops and showrooms in Miami,
Tampa, New Jersey, and other US cities, where they rolled their own cigars and sold them to the local Latin market.
They were replaced by inexperienced youths, eager to have any job. This aborted 300 years of patient, meticulous
seed development hat made pre-Castro Cuban cigars the envy of the world. The island had now lost its precious soil,
the seeds that carried the genetic blueprints, the records, the talent of the tobacco and cigar families, and most
Russia abandoned Cuba, leaving Castro to realize he had forfeited the international prestige and market dominance
his cigars had once enjoyed. Sugar-tainted land now grew inferior tobacco, curing and fermenting cycles were
shortened to meet demand, and inexperienced cigar rollers met Castro's rushed production schedules with poorly-made
product. Smokers who knew the joy of the true, pre-Castro puro wept at what now came out of Havana.
America's cigar boom of the 90s awakened young smokers to premium cigars. Virtually none knew the flavor and aroma
of a true Havana. These cigar buffs, enticed by the "forbidden fruit," pay exorbitant prices for illegal
Cuban cigars by the millions ... more than half of which are fakes, according to US Customs. Why should Castro
expend the effort and expense to improve quality, when buyers are willing to pay $20 for cigars that cost his
regime 20 cents?