Cigar History of Cuba: Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, Embargo

Cigar History of Cuba: Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, Embargo

Cigars have a rich history that spans several centuries and cultures. One country that is particularly renowned for its cigars is Cuba. Cuban cigars have been enjoyed by cigar enthusiasts worldwide for decades, but the history of Cuban cigars is closely tied to the country’s turbulent past.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959, led by Fidel Castro, significantly impacted the country’s cigar industry. Before the revolution, Cuba was a major exporter of tobacco and cigars to the United States. However, the US government imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1960, effectively cutting off the country’s access to the American market. This embargo profoundly affected the Cuban cigar industry, forcing the government to rely on other markets to sell its products.

Despite the embargo, Cuban cigars have remained popular among cigar enthusiasts worldwide. The country’s unique climate and soil conditions make it an ideal location for growing high-quality tobacco, and its cigar makers are renowned for their skills and expertise. Today, the history of Cuban cigars is closely tied to the country’s political and economic struggles, making them a symbol of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity.

Cigar History in Cuba

Cuba has a long and storied history when it comes to cigars. The country’s tobacco industry dates back to the 16th century when Spanish explorers first introduced tobacco to the island. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that Cuba became known for producing some of the world’s finest cigars.

One of the most significant events in Cuban cigar history was the Cuban Revolution, which began in 1953 and lasted until 1959. The revolutionaries, led by Fidel Castro, overthrew the government of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and established a socialist state in Cuba. The revolution significantly impacted the Cuban cigar industry, as many of the wealthy cigar manufacturers and tobacco growers fled the country.

After the revolution, the Cuban government nationalized the cigar industry, taking control of all the factories and farms. The government created a new organization called Cubatabaco to oversee the production and distribution of Cuban cigars. This move helped ensure that Cuban cigars’ quality remained high and consistent.

However, the Cuban cigar industry faced a new challenge in the 1960s when the United States imposed a trade embargo on Cuba. This embargo made it illegal for American companies to do business with Cuba, including importing cigars. The ban significantly impacted the Cuban cigar industry, as the United States was one of its largest markets.

Despite the embargo, the Cuban cigar industry continued to thrive, partly thanks to its reputation for producing some of the world’s finest cigars. Today, Cuban cigars remain highly sought after by cigar enthusiasts around the world, thanks to their unique flavor and aroma.

Pre-Revolutionary Era

Origins of Cuban Cigars

Cigars have been a part of Cuban culture for centuries. The indigenous people of Cuba, the Taínos, were known to smoke tobacco wrapped in palm leaves. When Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba in 1492, he was introduced to smoking by the Taínos and brought it back to Europe. By the 16th century, tobacco was grown in Cuba and exported to Europe.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Cuban cigars gained worldwide recognition for their quality and flavor. The fertile soil and ideal climate of the Vuelta Abajo region in western Cuba produced tobacco considered the best in the world. The Cuban government established a monopoly on the tobacco industry in 1817, which helped to regulate the quality of Cuban cigars and ensure their reputation as the world’s finest.

Cigar Industry Growth

By the early 20th century, the Cuban cigar industry was booming. The demand for Cuban cigars was high among the wealthy and influential, and the industry provided jobs for thousands of Cubans. The cigar factories in Havana were some of the largest and most modern in the world, and the drive was a significant contributor to the Cuban economy.

The growth of the cigar industry also led to the development of other related sectors, such as tobacco farming, cigar box making, and cigar band printing. These industries provided additional jobs and contributed to the overall success of the Cuban cigar industry.

Cuban Cigars in Popular Culture

For over a century, Cuban cigars have been associated with luxury, sophistication, and power. They have been smoked by celebrities, politicians, and business leaders and featured in countless movies and TV shows. The popularity of Cuban cigars reached its peak in the mid-20th century when they became a symbol of the good life.

However, the Cuban Revolution and subsequent US embargo on Cuban goods in 1962 significantly impacted the popularity of Cuban cigars. While they remained popular in Europe and other parts of the world, they were no longer readily available in the United States. This led to the rise of other cigar-producing countries, such as the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, which began producing cigars that were similar in flavor and quality to Cuban cigars.

Cuban Revolution

The Cuban Revolution was a period of political and social upheaval in Cuba that began in the 1950s and culminated in the overthrow of the Cuban government led by President Fulgencio Batista in 1959. The revolution was led by a group of rebels, including Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who sought to overthrow Batista’s corrupt and authoritarian regime and establish a socialist government in Cuba.

Revolutionary Forces

The revolutionary forces comprised diverse individuals, including students, intellectuals, and workers, who were united in their opposition to the Batista regime. The rebels gained support from the Cuban population by appealing to their desire for social and economic justice and national pride.

The rebels conducted a guerrilla war against the government forces, using hit-and-run tactics and relying on the local population’s support. The revolutionaries gained control of key areas of the country, including the Sierra Maestra mountains, where they established a base of operations.

Nationalization of the Cigar Industry

One of the most significant impacts of the Cuban Revolution was the nationalization of the cigar industry. In 1960, the Cuban government, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, nationalized the cigar industry, which foreign companies, including American corporations, had controlled.

The government established a state-run agency, Cubatabaco, to oversee the production and distribution of cigars. The agency controlled which cigars received the best tobacco, and iconic brands like Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, and H. Upmann generally benefited.

Impact on Cigar Production

The nationalization of the cigar industry significantly impacted cigar production in Cuba. The government’s control over the industry allowed it to regulate the quality and presentation of cigars, ensuring that only the best tobacco was used and that the cigars were of consistent quality.

However, the nationalization of the cigar industry also had negative consequences. The government’s control over the sector led to a lack of innovation and competition, which resulted in a decline in the quality of Cuban cigars in the 1970s and 1980s.

The embargo imposed by the United States in 1962 also had a significant impact on the Cuban cigar industry. The embargo made it illegal for Americans to import Cuban cigars, a substantial market for the industry. The loss of the American market led to a decline in production and a shift in focus to other markets, including Europe and Asia.

Fidel Castro Era

Nationalization of the Cigar Industry

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro’s government nationalized the cigar industry, previously controlled by American companies. The government took control of all cigar factories and plantations, which resulted in a significant shift in the industry’s operations.

The nationalization of the cigar industry led to the creation of the state-owned cigar company, Cubatabaco, which was responsible for producing and distributing all Cuban cigars. This move gave the government complete control over the industry and its profits.

Cuban Cigars in International Markets

Despite the US embargo on Cuban products, Cuban cigars remained popular in international markets, mainly Europe and Asia. The embargo, implemented in 1962, prohibited the importation of Cuban goods into the United States. However, the popularity of Cuban cigars continued spreading worldwide.

The exclusivity of Cuban cigars and their unique flavor and quality made them a symbol of luxury and status. This led to a thriving black market for Cuban cigars in the United States, with many Americans willing to pay high prices for contraband cigars.

Cigar Diplomacy

Cigars played a vital role in Fidel Castro’s diplomatic relations with other countries. Castro was known for his love of cigars and often gifted them to foreign dignitaries and heads of state as a symbol of friendship and goodwill.

One of the most famous examples of cigar diplomacy was when Castro gifted a box of Cuban cigars to former US President Bill Clinton during a United Nations General Assembly meeting in 2000. This gesture was an attempt to ease tensions between the two countries and lift the embargo on Cuban products.


The United States has maintained an embargo against Cuba since the early 1960s. The ban, known among Cubans as “el bloqueo” or “the blockade,” consists of economic sanctions against Cuba and restrictions on Cuban travel and commerce for all people and companies under US jurisdiction. The embargo has significantly impacted the Cuban economy and society, including the cigar industry.

USUS Embargo on Cuban Cigars

One of the most significant impacts of the embargo on Cuba has been on the country’s cigar industry. The blockade has prevented Cuban cigar manufacturers from selling their products in the United States, a significant market for Cuban cigars before the embargo. The embargo also prevents US citizens from bringing Cuban cigars into the United States, even if purchased in other countries.

Impact on the Cuban Cigar Industry

The embargo has significantly impacted the Cuban cigar industry, which has long been an essential part of the country’s economy. With the loss of the US market, Cuban cigar manufacturers have had to look for other markets to sell their products. While Cuba has maintained its reputation as a producer of high-quality cigars, the loss of the US market has significantly impacted the industry’s bottom line.

In recent years, the Cuban government has attempted to expand the cigar industry’s reach by increasing production and marketing efforts in other countries. However, the industry still faces significant challenges due to the embargo.

Cuban Cigars in the Black Market

Despite the embargo, Cuban cigars remain popular among cigar enthusiasts in the United States. As a result, a black market for Cuban cigars has developed in the country. While it is illegal to import Cuban cigars into the United States, some people are willing to risk getting their hands on these highly sought-after cigars.

The black market for Cuban cigars is a significant problem for the US government, which has tried to crack down on the illegal importation of Cuban cigars. However, the demand for Cuban cigars remains high, and many people are willing to pay a premium to get their hands on them.

History of Cigars in Other Countries

History of Cigars in USA

The history of cigars in the United States is a fascinating and complex one, marked by periods of prohibition, boom, and regulation. The Prohibition Era, which began in 1920, had a significant impact on the cigar industry, as it banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages, which included cigars. This led to a decline in the popularity of cigars in the US, as many cigar smokers turned to other forms of tobacco, such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco. However, the end of US Cigar Prohibition in 1933 marked the beginning of a new era for the cigar industry, as cigar smoking once again became popular among American consumers.

During the post-Prohibition boom, the cigar industry in the US experienced tremendous growth, with many new brands and varieties of cigars being introduced to the market. However, this growth was short-lived, as the industry soon faced new challenges in the form of government regulation. In the 1960s and 1970s, the US government began to regulate the cigar industry more closely, imposing strict rules on manufacturing, labeling, and marketing cigars. Despite these challenges, the cigar industry in the US has continued to thrive, with many new brands and varieties of cigars being introduced to the market each year. Today, the US is home to a vibrant and diverse cigar culture, with many cigar enthusiasts enjoying a wide range of high-quality cigars worldwide.

History of Cigars in Europe

Cigar history in Europe is a rich and diverse one, with a long tradition of cigar-making and smoking that dates back centuries. Cigars have significantly influenced various cultures and traditions throughout Europe, with many countries having unique cigar-making traditions and styles. For example, the Dominican Republic is known for producing some of the world’s finest cigars, while Cuba is widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern cigar. In Spain, cigars are often enjoyed with a glass of sherry; in Italy, they are often paired with a strong espresso.

The culture of cigar smoking in Europe is deeply rooted in European cigar history and tradition, with many famous figures being avid cigar smokers throughout history. For example, Winston Churchill, one of the most famous cigar smokers in history, was known for his love of cigars and often smoked them in public. Cigar smoking remains a popular pastime in many parts of Europe, with many cigar clubs and lounges catering to cigar enthusiasts. Whether you are a seasoned cigar smoker or just starting to explore the world of cigars, Europe is a great place to learn about this fascinating pastime’s rich history and culture.

History of Cigars in Asia

The history of cigars in Asia is a fascinating mix of cultural exchange, growing markets, and evolving tastes. While traditionally not a region associated with tobacco cultivation or cigar production, Asia has, over time, become a significant consumer of premium cigars. The Habanos, the term for cigars made in Cuba, are especially prized in the Asian market due to their reputation for quality and craftsmanship.

The 19th-century opulence of British Hong Kong and Shanghai first introduced Asian society to the luxury of imported Cuban cigars. This gradually fostered a market that would continue to mature in sophistication and demand. Today, Asia boasts some of the most upscale cigar lounges and retailers globally, catering to a clientele with an appetite for the best Habanos.

Over the years, the appreciation for cigars has also led to the development of regional blends. Countries like the Philippines and Indonesia have long histories of tobacco cultivation and have created their own unique cigar brands and creating their own Asian cigar history. The Indonesian Besuki wrapper, for example, is used in various high-quality cigars globally, contributing a distinct flavor profile.

As of the early 21st century, China has emerged as one of the fastest-growing markets for premium cigars. This growth is driven by the rising middle class and an increasing appreciation for luxury goods. This trend extends to other Asian countries, making Asia an exciting frontier for the cigar industry’s future growth.