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Havana, a treasure of Cuba that seduces the Chinese

Ⓒ AFP – Yamil LAGE – | Cuban peasant harvesting tobacco leaves at a plantation
in San Juan y Martinez, February 24, 2018 in Pinar del

By picking, one by one, the big green leaves of the tobacco
plants, the Cuban farmers know that they are touching gold: the
Havanas, these luxury cigars which make the reputation of the
island, come again to live a record year.

“This tobacco makes the Chinese cry,” proudly says Fernando
Hernandez, 50, who leads the harvest in a field in Pinar del
Rio, 160 kilometers west of Havana.

In the tranquility of the sunny morning, only the creaking
of loose leaves can be heard, which will soon give birth to the
best cigars in the world.

And China looks forward to them: now the third largest
consumer country in Havana, behind the historical records of
France and Spain, it has increased its purchases by 24% in

Thanks to the appetite of the Asian giant, global sales of
cigars have risen by 12% to $ 500 million according to the
sector, exceeding the growth of the luxury market, by 5%
according to Bain and Company.

Ⓒ AFP – Yamil LAGE – | A Cuban peasant works in a tobacco plantation on
February 24, 2018 in Pinar del Río

“China has a demand we must meet and we can count on
double-digit growth in the coming years,” said José Maria Lopez
Inchaurbe, vice president of Habanos SA, at the opening of the
Havana Film Festival. , organized this week in the Cuban

Behind this luxury product, sold in wooden boxes
guaranteeing the necessary humidity and whose price sometimes
exceeds one million dollars in auctions, hides the work of
simple farmers, who carry out the harvest at the beginning of
the year .

“This year is not bad, but it’s also not the best year, last
year it rained and not this time, so the tobacco does not
cool,” says Lazaro Lazo, 48 who has been harvesting tobacco for
twenty years. “Rain is the medicine of the plant”.

Fernando Hernandez promises it: here, we produce “the best
tobacco in the world, because of the soil, for tobacco, the
colorful soil of Pinar del Rio is the best”.

But he is frustrated by the US embargo imposed since 1962.
“Without that, we would produce more,” he says.

– Kennedy and his 1,000 cigars –

Ⓒ AFP – ADALBERTO ROQUE – | People participate in a master class to learn how to
roll and smoke Cuban cigars on February 28, 2018 in Havana,

Habanos SA, owned by the Cuban state and the Spanish group
Altadis (a subsidiary of the British Imperial Tobacco), exports
cigars in most of the world, but no question of entering the
United States.

What anger the Cubans, who do not forget that in 1962, US
President John F. Kennedy had ordered his advisor to buy him
1,000 cigars. Just after receiving them in his office, he
signed the embargo law.

“The day this embargo will be lifted we will know what to do
to supply the North American market,” says Leopoldo Cintra,
vice president of commercial Habanos SA

For the moment, Europe absorbs 54% of exports, followed by
Latin America (17%) and the Asia-Pacific region (15%).

Sign of changing times, at the Havana Festival, the Chinese
have set up a booth, where they offer accessories for smokers,
with catchy slogan: “The cigar is to the man what the perfume
is to the lady”.

To conquer new markets, “we have the Havana Academy for
several years, and in 2016 we have trained 11,000 (new)
consumers worldwide,” says José Maria Lopez, vice president of
development of Habanos HER

In the fields of Pinar del Rio, once the harvest is over,
the tobacco is transported to a rustic hut where women catch
the leaves by the stalk, plant a needle and a thread and then
dry them on pieces of wood. . Later, the cigar rollers will
finish the job.

“I feel happy to be part of this
industry, but we do a lot and we do not see much the result,”
laments Cristina Valdés, 51 years old, including 30 in the
tobacco fields, pointing out that drying “we pay well, “less at

Cigars give work to nearly 130,000 Cubans, on an island of
about 11 million people. Alberto Pruna, 69, started at nine.
“Yes, we are well paid,” he says, because “before (the
revolution led by Fidel Castro, ed), we worked almost

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