14ymedio, Havana, 2 March 2023 — Cohiba Behike cigars, flagship product of the Habanos SA company and self-proclaimed “most expensive cigars in the world”, are priced at 400 dollars a piece. The Island’s authorities are boasting about this fact in a frenetic campaign, launched this week in the official press to attract foreign clients to the twenty-third Habano Festival, which is being held until next Friday in the Cuban capital.
Behike, which has been the most expensive of all Cohiba cigars since 2010, was created in 1966 for Fidel Castro to lavish upon international visitors and diplomats. It encapsulates the vitolas — varieties — of BHK 52, BHK 54 and BHK 56, made in the Havana cigar factory El Laguito, using superior quality tobacco leaves from the villages of San Juan y Martínez and San Luis, in Pinar del Río — in an area known as Vueltabajo in the vernacular of the local tobacco farmers.
The particular mixture of leaves for acquiring the unique Behike taste and aroma is the El Laguito cigar makers’ “best kept secret”, which, along with the air of mystery that Castro tried to create around its fabrication, boosts this cigar’s price in both international stores and national shops — a fact which horrifies Cuban people.
As well as the usual presentation in lacquered boxes of ten cigars, Cuba makes Behike cigars with special wrapping which has an impact on the price, which the “aficionados with higher solvency” — a euphemism which the Prensa Latina news agency uses to describe the millionaires who attend the Festival — are able to pay.
During the week of the Festival at the Havana Conference Centre — the same space as used by the government for important meetings — the official press has even offered lists of the “best cigars” or the “best selling” ones.
Prensa Latina publishes a top ten which includes the various makes: Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, Partagás and Cohiba – the latter of which continues to be the most prestigious on international markets. According to this list, the three best habanos in the world are: the Montecristo Number 4, the Romeo y Julieta Churchill and Cohiba’s Lancero. These three varieties are very well known and frequently appear in films, magazines and international catalogues.
At the Habano Festival, collectors participate voraciously in the auctioning of humidores — the cedar-wood boxes which regulate the humidity of the cigars, whose prices reach absurd levels if they carry Fidel Castro’s signature (he left behind hundreds of signed ones) or that of any celebrity.
As part of the sales campaign the official press associates the act of smoking habanos with historical figures such as Ernesto (’Che’) Guevara and Winston Churchill, scientists such as Albert Einstein, actors such as Robert DeNiro and Arnold Swarzenegger — “who, a few years ago visited Cuba practically in secret in order to smoke genuine habanos“, they claim — and even American presidents, including John Quincy Adams, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.
Some 2,000 participants from 110 countries will spend their money in Havana in the week leading up to Friday — including millionaires and collectors (above all, Europeans and Arabs), leading cigar aficionados and politicians from all over the world. The important thing, affirms Prensa Latina, is to present all the visitors not only as aficionados of cigar culture, but as “a kind of army of Cuba lovers”.
The Cuban government invested five hundred and forty-five million dollars in the cigar industry in 2022, but the outlook for its producers, whose tobacco crop was destroyed by the passage of Hurricane Ian, does not auger well, in a sector which depends, above all, on the excellence of its premium raw materials.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso
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