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Written by Kevin Godbee

Monday, 29 December 2008

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cuban embargotobacco legislation
I'm an American.

Supposedly, I am one of the freest people in the world.

Cuban EmbargoI have "Freedom of Speech"  ...  as long as I don't want to get sued, the "Right to Bear Arms"  ...  for now, and I can travel all over the world  ...  except 90 miles off our shores to Cuba.

Everyone in the world can legally smoke Cuban cigars  ...  except Americans, but the situation is obviously deeper than this.

Admittedly, cigars are what got me onto the subject of the Cuban Embargo. A couple of news reports earlier this year about the Coast Guard seizing boats returning to the United States, chock full of Cuban cigars, cigarettes and rum, prompted me to think of the forty-six (46) year old embargo.
 
As reported on Cigar-Review.com

 

Actually, there were two (2) embargoes, both issued as Executive Orders. The first one embargoed trade with Cuba. Some of our more mature readers may remember Havana cigars coming in with a label indicating that they "...  were flown by Iberia ..." in other words; we were getting them from Tabacalera in Spain. (I do not remember this as the embargo is one year older than I, but my research brought it to light.)

The "second" embargo banned the importation of Cuban goods. It was not until 1992, mind you, that the Embargo was codified as law. That was followed, in 1996, by the Helms-Burton Act which is more noted for its lapses than for its enforcement.

Cigars & Politics

This is obviously a site about cigars, and not about politics. However, the Cuban Embargo is where they intersect, so I will be talking about both.Cuban Cigars

Cuban Cigars have the reputation for being the best in the world, but the truth is a little bit different. If you go around saying Cuban cigars are the best, or that you only smoke Cuban cigars, you just outed yourself as someone that really knows nothing about cigars.

Some Cuban cigars are great, and some aren't worth the boxes they come in. While I think Americans should have the freedom of choice to smoke Cuban cigars if they want to, we do have many other great choices.

Truth be known; I think Nicaraguan, Honduran and Dominican cigars are excellent; and, its about time the cigar makers who make them, and sell them, stop saying, "It's like a Cuban (Havana) cigar." Cigar manufacturers, please take note.

Speaking of cigar manufacturers, several of the owners, executives, managers and employees are of Cuban descent. Upon conceiving of this article topic, I knew I would anger some people, notably some Cuban-American exiles.

There continues to be a strong, very emotionally charged lobby for the Cuban Embargo in Miami and other areas of dense Cuban population. Even so, based on a few conversations I've had with different cigar manufacturers in Miami, I doubt this next sentence will make any of them mad at me. Just don't tell my pseudo "mother-in-law" about this article, please.

The Cuban Embargo has to be one of the most twisted forms of legislation that this country has ever been stuck with.

While it's original intentions may have been noble, what we're left with now is something more akin to what my mother called 'cutting off your nose to spite your face'.

Instead of hurting the country we're targeting we're really only hurting ourselves.

You might consider that it's rather strange to be in that position but that's exactly what the embargo is because we are really the only country that is suffering from the effects of the embargo. But let me explain  ...  maybe I can make things a little clearer here.

The Embargo came into force back in 1962 after it became apparent that Cuba was firmly in the hands of Fidel Castro and likely to stay that way unless we did something to force him out. Military tactics were tried and failed and so a trade embargo that prevented Cuba from trading with us was put in place in the hope that a lack of imports and the destruction of their export market would encourage the Cuban people to get rid of Fidel. Up until then we had been Cuba's biggest trading partner but it didn't take them long to find others to trade with.

Now after 46 years of embargo, Cuba is still there, trading with the world but not trading with us. After several amendments to the legislation that governs the embargo Americans are allowed to, under special circumstances, visit Cuba, and do business there. Aside from that, many Americans also travel to Cuba through other countries, illegally, and spend US dollars there. Cuba is still not allowed to send goods to the United States.

Of course that means that Cuban cigars are all but impossible to find here in the United States as they can't be brought into the country legally. You just have to wonder why, after 46 years we're still cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

Historically, there exists much evidence that would dictate that the embargo, which all acknowledge has not worked, be abandoned. I cite herein some of that 'evidence.'

Today our closest allies are Germany and Japan. Enemies in a war that cost 418,500+/- American lives. Obviously, we occupied these countries at the close of the war. It was the manner in which we dealt with the defeated nations that created today's relationship with them.

My point being, if we can be close allies with countries that caused so much grief and loss of life; why do we continue to enforce an unworkable embargo against a country that has not inflicted such loss on us.

We have normal diplomatic relations with Vietnam; an enemy in a war that cost 58,000+/- American lives.

In point of fact, the normalization of relations with Vietnam came, in a historical context, much more quickly than the normalization with Germany and Japan. Vietnam was a country of no particular significance to us after the fall of Saigon; the normalization of relations was, in large part, dictated by commercial interests.

Taiwan, Japan, Australia, France and other countries were enjoying considerable commercial relations with Vietnam, and we were missing out on this.

Likewise, even after the fall of the Soviet Union, countries like Japan, Taiwan, France and Canada enjoy considerable business with Cuba.

Here is a country, ninety miles from our shores, in need of considerable infrastructure investment, offering other possibilities for capital investment as well - and what they can afford is being acquired from countries half a world away.

The Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Empire collapsed, not because of an embargo, but because of engagement. Television had a great deal to do with it as well: with CNN it was no longer possible for totalitarian governments to tell their people how good life was. They could see the reality, on the other side of the wall on TV.

We never instituted an embargo against the Russians; although, under President Carter, we did refuse to go to the Moscow Olympics!

We never embargoed Franco's Spain, Peron's Argentina, Salazar's Portugal, Stroessner's Paraguay, Nasser's Egypt, or Duvalier's Haiti.

I could go on and on listing nations lead by despots that we not only never embargoed, but, rather, maintained cordial relations with. The short list above covers both.

Granted, the ostensible purpose of the embargo was retribution for the seizure, by the Cuban government, of U.S. owned commercial properties and interests. And yet, there are no similar historical reactions; and there has been no adjustment of the situation as a result of the embargo.

It is worth noting that this U. S. effort has never had the support of the world. In each year during the past decade and a half, the General Assembly at the UN - no real friend of the United States; has voted to condemn the embargo.

The only people voting with the U.S., in the last such vote, rejecting the condemnation resolution have been Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands! And Israel, itself, has been developing ties with Cuba since the Clinton Administration.

So why the Cuba embargo; and why has it been in place for four decades plus?Havana Cuba

In light of the frequent claim, from many shades of the political spectrum, that American Jews hold sway over U. S. Foreign Policy vis-à-vis Israel, the institution of the Cuban Embargo and its subsequent maintenance through decades is somewhat ironic.

There are some five and a quarter million people of the Jewish faith in the United States. While there are approximately 1.5 million people of Cuban descent and who arrived from Cuba.

Talk about influence ... but people rarely do talk about this influence!

So, what is it, in the case of Cuba that has impelled the institution of, and the maintenance of a failed policy; using a fatuous device - the embargo. I would have to say it is Cubans. Those Cubans that came here; and have developed political influence, in large part through block voting in Florida. Yes, that's a simplification of the political aspects; but, it nonetheless is the only explanation for the fact that the embargo has lasted through ten (10) U. S. Presidents - from both parties.

In point of fact, the Jewish population centers, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, etc, have the same electoral impact. The difference being, those Americans of the Jewish faith tend to be more liberal - evidence the overwhelming, and hard to understand; turn out for Barack Obama by Jews. No, strike that, by both communities.

The embargo still is a hot button political issue that some Congress persons from Florida keep as the center piece of their political position. However; that appeal is waning with first generation, Americans of Cuban descent. These young people see themselves as Americans and don't feel the loss that their immigrant parents felt.

Obviously, it was loss of country; loss of property; loss of some family members and loss of family patrimony. Nonetheless, few Cubans that immigrated to the United States have not fared better than they would have in Cuba.

So, yes, the older generation supports the embargo to get even with Fidel; although, one concludes on visiting Cuba that the people who suffer from the embargo are the ordinary Cuban citizens. Fidel and the 'commissariat' are at a loss for nothing.

As I planned to write this article and did research on various aspects of the subject, I recognized that input from Cubans and the Cuban Government would be desirable. Regrettably, my schedule did not allow for a visit to Cuba, so I contented myself - and, I believe, satisfied the need for that input, by conversations with Cubans here in the U.S. And, a brief interview with my pseudo "father-in-law" Hector Travieso.

Mr. Travieso is a Cuban exile who chose to settle in Puerto Rico, where he has a daily TV program. He has appeared in soap operas on TV and in the movies. He has had roles in films where he appeared with Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman and other prominent stars.

Hector TraviesoSeñor Travieso is also a cigar smoker.

KG: When did you leave Cuba and under what circumstances?

Travieso: I left Cuba 47 years ago, I was a boy then. One night my father told me in our old house in Havana, that I had to leave Cuba within a week. The next thing I knew, I was in Miami living with my aunt. I went to school; I worked for the Grand Union supermarkets, at gas stations and many other jobs. Also I used to sing on weekends in what today is South Beach. Then I became an actor.

KG: What is your opinion of the Cuban Embargo? Do you think it should stay in place or be lifted, and why?

Travieso: The embargo has been a huge mistake since its very beginning, back in 1961 after Bay of Pigs failure. Ten American presidents, 25 congresses have already gone by and nothing has been done to solve the problem.

KG: Do you think it is fair that Americans can't buy Cuban cigars, but the rest of the world can?

Travieso: It's not fair; it's kind of stupid that we can't buy Cuban products in general.

KG: What do you anticipate for the future of Cuba in the next 5 - 10 years?

Travieso: I sincerely hope that Mr. Obama has the intelligence to lift the embargo right away. Fortunes will be made once Cuba is opened to the U. S. again. Remember, over 12 million people in Cuba are eager to buy American products and thousands of US farmers are waiting for that opportunity to come.

KG: Do you smoke Cuban cigars? If so, what are your favorite Cuban cigars? What are your favorite non-Cuban cigars?

Travieso: No, I don't smoke Cuban cigars. Whenever I have a chance; I manage to pull good Dominican and Jamaican brands.

KG: What is your opinion of Cuban cigars in general and your opinion of non-Cuban cigars in general?

Travieso: Cuban cigars according to my late father were the best of the best. If we just could ask Mr. Winston Churchill.

KG: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

Travieso: Yes, let's don't forget that this is the 21st century. "El Che" is dead, Fidel is also dead but nobody has told him. They don't dare to.

Admittedly, one Cuban exile's opinion, but, not atypical of the responses I received. Other Cubans of my acquaintance were equally anti-embargo, but were reticent to have their names attached to their views.

There were, of course, many who stridently supported the imposition of, and the continuation of the embargo. As a whole, I would estimate, granted mine was a small 'survey' that 67% were in favor of dropping it; 18% were forceful about maintaining it; and the rest were, well, ambivalent!

Perhaps it's time that we did start encouraging our Congressmen to start thinking about doing away with the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba because we're only hurting ourselves by not trading with them.

What will happen with Cuban cigars when the embargo is lifted?Cuban Montecristos

Once the embargo is lifted, will we get to enjoy those Cuban cigars that some of us have missed for years? And at what price?

If and when the embargo is lifted, don't start planning the 'cigar party' right away. I am not so sure Habanos S.A. will re-direct product from their longtime customers around the world to satisfy American demand.

Cigars are not the type of product where you can just pull some levers and add employees to pump up production. Premium cigars require special soil, climate, weather, fermentation and aging. They also require highly skilled workers.

Some of you may remember what happened during the so called "cigar boom", or better yet, 'fad' in the '90's. Lots of over-priced, inferior product hit the market in the rush to fulfill a rapid increase in demand.

Cuban tobacco will also most likely be purchased by the American-based cigar manufacturers, using up limited supplies even faster. Several Miami-based cigar manufacturers have told me they are eager to blend Cuban tobacco the same way they have successfully done so with Nicaraguan, Honduran, Dominican and other tobaccos.

I suspect that immediate post-embargo, Cuban cigars will start showing up a little more often at American herfs, but not that often, and at an even higher cost than they do now. I also suspect that some of the cache of Cuban cigars will fade when they are no longer the 'forbidden fruit' for citizens of the United States.

Even though I believe that Cuban cigars will still be somewhat hard to get and remain pricey for several years after the lifting of the Cuban Embargo, as I said in the beginning, this is about much more than cigars, and lifting the embargo is the right thing to do.

Here is a great article with much more information on what it is like in Cuba now, and some of the past history:
Life after Fidel Castro's revolution: a long fall from red dawn to black market




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