Lost in Havana (Conclusion)

By BobbyRica | January 30, 2012

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My gracious host Abelardo wanted me to sell Cuban cigars in the United States. He promised to give me a big cut for my efforts. The offer was good except that I had never sold anything in my life before. Would I be able to dispose of the cigars easily?

“Of course, amigo! Everyone loves Cuban cigars,” Abelardo said.

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“What makes Cuban cigars so special anyway?” I asked.

Abelardo explained that part of the attraction lies in the fact that Cuban cigar rollers or “torcedores” are considered the best rollers in the world. He said these people have perfected the art of rolling a cigar and are well-respected in Cuban society. In fact, they often travel to different countries to display their skills. This is why Cuban cigars are quite expensive.

“Really? I never knew that,” I told Abelardo.

Secondly, Abelardo explained that the industry is controlled by the government to ensure the quality of Cuban cigars. Most of these are made in the province of Pinar del Rio and the two major cigar manufacturers are Cubatabaco and Habanos SA.

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Being a greedy son of a bitch, I was amazed at Abelardo’s story and told myself this job might not be so hard after all. Besides, I remember helping my best friend sell lemonade before when I was a kid. Surely anyone who has sold lemonade could easily sell cigars, I thought.

My interest in Cuban cigars grew deeper when I learned that they are one of Cuba’s largest exports. In 1991 alone, the country exported 77 million cigars. Not even American trade sanctions against Cuban cigars could stop people from buying them.

I was already counting the profits I could make with this venture when two men entered the restaurant. Abelardo motioned me to be quiet. It was the first time I saw him look scared.

“Hush, my friend. See those two men? They’re spies for a rival cigar company. If they knew I was recruiting you to sell cigars in the United States, we would both be in trouble.

Fortunately, the two men just picked up an order and disappeared just as quickly as they came.

“Boy, that was close,” Abelardo wiped his sweaty brow.

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“I’ve been dying to ask you. Why are Cuban cigars illegal by the way?” I told my friend.

Abelardo said it all started when then US President John F. Kennedy imposed a trade embargo on Cuba on February 7, 1962. He did this to penalize Fidel Castro’s communist government.

But Kennedy, it seems, was also in love with Cuban cigars. Before the embargo took effect, he ordered his Press Secretary Pierre Salinger to get 1,200 Cuban cigars a day earlier. Later Richard Goodwin, a former White House assistant, told the New York Times that JFK wanted to exempt cigars from the embargo but American cigar manufacturers didn’t like the idea. Because of this, US residents can’t purchase Cuban cigars regardless of where they are.

“So will you do it, amigo? Will you be my American contact?” Abelardo asked me.

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As a kid, I always wanted to be different. That’s the reason why I travel to different places in search of adventure. That’s the reason why I keep a pet rock and why I subscribe to lots of magazines that I never read. But I was also old enough to know that selling Cuban cigars was illegal. If caught, I would be fined thousands of dollars. For this reason, I politely turned down Abelardo’s offer. Maybe I wasn’t a greedy son of a bitch after all!

Abelardo was disappointed but he understood my situation. He shook my hand and said, “It’s OK, amigo. I understand and respect your decision.”

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So here I am back home guzzling beer and thankful that Abelardo bailed me out of a tight spot. He befriended me, fed me, paid my plane fare and wasn’t angry about my decision. Life without Cuban cigars isn’t so bad after all. I have many things to be thankful for and I wasn’t prepared to destroy my future just to please another cigarette junkie. As they say, life goes on. So here I go exploring life again and hoping that you’ll join me in my next adventure.

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