Cuban cigars have been illegal in the United States since 1962 following Fidel Castro’s successful revolution in Cuba. The primary reason they are still illegal to purchase within the United States is because Cuba is still communist and there are no trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
In 1962, then President John F. Kennedy established trade sanctions against Cuba. This was as a result of the U.S. dislike of Castro’s communist regime. Castro’s revolutionaries had seized power and were quickly seizing private property as well. Since Cuba is so close the U.S. borders, its communist government was seen as a major threat to America.
Another strong catalyst for the Cuban Trade Embargo was Castro’s friendliness with the Soviet Union. During this same period, Castro allowed the Soviet Union to construct nuclear missile bases on Cuba. The close proximity of these nuclear bases to the very heartland of the United States created a major incident. In fact, the Cuban missile crisis was probably the closest the world has ever been to a nuclear war.
In the following years, American intelligence agencies attempted to assassinate Castro many times, never succeeding. One of the more ironic attempts was to poison him with a cigar. Even though Fidel Castro is no longer in power in Cuba, the Cuban Trade Embargo remains in place because Cuban’s government is still communist.
There are organizations trying to get the embargo lifted, with efforts strengthening since Fidel Castro stepped down and his brother Raul succeeded him. Without much success, the Cuban Trade Embargo appears destined to remain in place, and was even strengthened in 2004. It is now not only illegal for Cuban cigars to be imported to the U.S., but it is even illegal for a U.S. citizen to purchase one outside of the country.
Penalties for U.S. citizens who attempt to purchase or, especially import Cuban cigars are severe. If caught, a U.S. citizen faces confiscation of the cigars, a $55,000 fine, and prosecution, with imprisonment as a possibility. While this may be a difficult law to oversee and ensure compliance, it demonstrates the depth of the anti-communist feelings within the United States government.
Why Are They Special?
What makes a cigar worth risking hefty fines and imprisonment? There are those who believe that Cuban cigars are the best cigars made anywhere. While the cigars are good, it is really more a matter of taste as to if they are the world’s best.
Recently, a famous cigar maker in Cuba died and much of the tobacco enthusiast world went into mourning. Alejandro Robaina was a master cigar maker and his death meant an end to some of the world’s finest Cuban cigars.
Robaina did not single-handedly create the Cuban cigar’s reputation. These cigars have been famous since the 1600s and are a result of skill, geography and a great deal of hype.
Cuba possesses what experts define as the perfect environment for growing tobacco for cigars. The plants produce very high quality leaves, especially the tobacco leaves which are used for the cigar wrappers. Experts say it is Cuba’s soil which produces these quality leaves, considered by many to be the most important part of the cigar.
Another contributing factor is Cuba’s weather.
The island’s humidity is perfect for both growing and drying the tobacco plants. Additionally, Cuban growers have worked with the tobacco crop for hundreds of years. Over this time, they have perfectly refined the process for harvesting the tobacco and rolling the cigars.
The key secret to creating a perfect Cuban cigar is knowing when to pick the tobacco leaves. Once picked, the leaves must then have the proper humidity to remain supple and ready for rolling. Perfect tobacco leaves are very large and completely intact.
There is also an element of mythology that contributes to the allure of the Cuban cigar. One of the more popular stories is that Cuban cigars are so high quality because they were rolled in the laps of biracial Cuban women.
For the U.S. market, there is also the excitement of doing the forbidden. The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba has make it a bit more exciting to possess and smoke a Cuban cigar. This same trade embargo has also made the Cuban cigar very expensive, another reason some people want to smoke them.
While Cuba remains a communist country, there is little possibility the U.S. will end its trade embargo against importing Cuban cigars. Even so, cigar enthusiasts will continue to work their way around the system to enjoy one of the best things Cuba has to offer.