Luxury Cigars for the World’s Princes, ‘Peso’ Tobacco for Cuban Beggars

Compared to the big events that Habanos SA prepares, Casals’ presentation was rather humble. (ACN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 December 2023 — The most recent cigar presented by the monopoly Habanos SA to its international clientele is the El Rey del Mundo Royal Series, a formidable medium-strength tobacco that is recommended to be paired with rum. Along with its impeccable presentation – cedar box, quality certificate and ring with gold details – the new Casals brand, manufactured in Las Tunas for the province’s bodegas, leaves much to be desired.

The story of both tobaccos is that of the prince and the pauper. The King of the World was launched in Cyprus this Saturday, at a luxury tasting for 450 guests organized by distributor Phoenicia T.A.A, a long-time business partner of the regime. The Casals, for its part, was only received by the officials of the Property Registry in Las Tunas who registered the product “for the retail market.”

Even in photos, the careful workmanship of the Royal Series says everything the connoisseur needs to know: it is a high-end cigar, whose price has not even been set yet, with all the prestige of a brand like El Rey del Mundo, founded in 1882. The box of 15 Casals is not made of cedar, but of a material similar to bagasse, and its fittings – the internal and external ornaments – are not gold and embossed, but rather mustard colored.

The box of 15 Casals is not made of cedar, but of a material similar to bagasse, and its qualifications are not gold and embossed, but rather mustard colored

The Las Las Tunas brand, its manufacturers claim, alludes to Enrique Casals, a former member of the 26th of July Movement who was charred to death in the municipality of Jobabo during the so-called Bloody Easter, in 1956. Carlos Betancourt, provincial director of Acopio, Beneficio y Torcido de Tabaco, has many plans for the product, however humble it may be, such as its “insertion in bars, shops and tourist spaces.”

However, he regretted that the production volumes “will not be considerable,” as long as there are not enough rollers – they are already “training” them – and Casals “increases its quality.” Not only will its marketing not reach Cyprus, but it will have to be limited to the stores of the so-called Balcón de Oriente [Las Tunas area].

The contrast between the “peso” tobaccos, as Cubans call the cylinder of poor quality that the bodegas offer – although it already costs five pesos – and the cigars marketed by Habanos SA is notable. The Habano Festival held annually in the Cuban capital, with the presence of many millionaires and specialists, is just one of the events – and not the most luxurious – that Habanos SA organizes around the world.

It is enough to review the official website of the monopoly, co-directed by Cuba and Spain, to verify the caliber of each presentation of new cigars, humidors, smoking implements and associated products, such as rum or coffee.

The Las Tunas brand, its manufacturers claim, alludes to Enrique Casals, a former member of the 26th of July Movement. (ACN)On November 1, the latest edition of the Por Larrañaga brand – an elongated Churchill-type vitola* – had 47 simultaneous presentations in the United Kingdom alone. In each one there were Cuban maestros to serve the clients. The event, which began in all locations at 6:30 in the afternoon, was sponsored by the Cuban cigar distributor in the UK, Hunters & Frankau.

At the end of September, the expensive Cohiba 55th Anniversary was presented in Caracas, a limited edition that no Venezuelan could afford. The launch, at the Robusto Bar – the first in Venezuela specialized in premium tobacco – celebrated that the alliance between both countries had one of its best results in the exchange of cigars. Not in vain, the organizers assured, the vitola – the format – of the new Cohiba is called Victorias. The guests toasted that night with Bicentenario rum, “a jewel of the house.”

Mexico, on the other hand, opened a luxurious Casa del Habano in the city of León, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. With an 80 square meter terrace, a humidor with capacity for 50,000 cigars and “comfortable armchairs and amenities,” the establishment aims to become the headquarters of good tobacco “in the region and beyond.”

The cigar market, one of the most lucrative for the regime – it raised $545 million in international sales in 2022, more than nickel – despite the imminent debacle expected for the sector due to the impact of hurricanes and the delay in this year’s planting. It continues to have among its loyal clients the richest men in the world, whom it invites to the capital of the Island for dinners and auctions. To the disappointment of the director of Acopio in Las Tunas, Casals will never be able to aspire to a luxury tasting in London, Caracas or even Havana.

*Translator’s note: “Cigars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, which are often referred to as Vitolas.”


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