On January 2nd, 1959, Fidel Castro descended from the Cuban mountains and took control of the country’s government. During the revolution, people had donated to Castro’s cause and were elated for this change.
Some of the donations came from the large tobacco farmers and cigar manufacturers. Little did these people know that their elation would soon turn to fear and despair.
Castro and his military troops began to take over private farms such as Carlos Toraño Sr.’s farm, Esperanza, along with its warehouses and other property. Years later, Toraño would name The Exodus 1959 blend to commemorate the mass exodus of tobacco farmers and cigar makers that left Cuba after the revolution.
In addition to seizing property, Castro also froze the financial resources of these cigar makers. The only thing the cigar makers could do was grab some of their Cuban tobacco seed and flee the country with whatever money they had in their pockets.
This mass exodus of cigar makers from Cuba was the birth of the cigar industry as we know it today. These people arrived in Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and even America.
Companies such as Padron, Joya de Nicaragua and Toraño cigars were formed in direct response to the cigar maker’s exiled status.
New tobacco fields were planted and harvested, blends were created and tested and new cigar brands were born.
Two years later, President Kennedy enacted the Cuban embargo. This action had a direct affect on the US based cigar manufacturers.
Before the embargo, the majority of cigars made in the US were made of Cuban tobacco and called “Clear Havanas”. The end of trade with Cuba meant these companies could not obtain the material for their products. While there were a few years of Cuban tobacco stockpiled for some, other companies simply went out of business.
The good news about the embargo was that it opened up the United States as a new market for the exiled Cubans. Since Cuban tobacco was no longer an option, these new companies had an excellent opportunity to get their products into the hands of the American cigar smoking public.
Men such as Ramón Cifuentes, Alonso Menendez and Carlos Toraño Sr. have long since passed away without ever being able to return to the land from which they were forcibly removed. But, the future of the companies that they founded could change once again.
The current state of political affairs between the United States and Cuba do show some promise. If the embargo is lifted, perhaps we will once again be able to legally enjoy a Cuban Puro.
I would also be willing to bet that current Caribbean and Central American factories would begin to experiment with Cuban tobaccos to bring new blends to market.
This story could come full circle with ancestors of the exiled returning to Cuba and once again work the soil.The Exodus of Cigar Makers from Cuba by Tom Ufer