For those of you who came to age during the 1960’s, you probably vividly remember where you were when JFK was shot. For those of you who are cigar lovers, you probably vividly remember where you were when he made Cuban Cigars illegal.
For over four decades, cigar smokers of America have been left without the ability to procure what’s reputed to be the finest smokes on the market; they’ve been left empty -handed like a child who lost a favorite toy, a very luxurious, flavorful toy, in a neighbor’s backyard. This has placed cigar lovers in perpetual wonderment, asking why they are missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Bent on a legacy of close economic and geographical relations, the ties between Cuba and America began to unravel when the Cuban Revolution gave Fidel Castro power on January 7, 1959. These tensions between the two countries were further compounded when Cuba and the Soviet Union appeared in cahoots, like two forces attending a Communistic tea party. Reacting to this two-headed threat, the US dealt with unraveling ties by severing them altogether.
Cuban Cigars found their way into the history books on February 7, 1962. Intending to cut off Castro and his government, JFK implemented a trade embargo. Americans, under this embargo, were prohibited from purchasing Cuban Cigars and Cuba, as JFK intended, lost a majority of their customer base, and a great amount of revenue.
The US government knew this would happen; just four years earlier 67 percent of Cuba’s exports and 70 percent of their imports involved the US. A trade embargo was sure to hit them below the belt. And so, JFK laced up his gloves.
While the embargo resulted in American exporters losing an estimated 1.2 billion, the Cuban government lost much more; the embargo cost them roughly 70 billion. However, this loss didn’t hit Cuba with the force intended; the Soviet Union, supplying Cuba with subsidies, shielded the blow.
As soon as the embargo began, so did the criticism. While tobacco lovers everywhere were angry, standing by and watching their ability to procure the best cigars in the world go up in smoke, much of the criticism came on a political level.
While some argued that the embargo only strengthened the unity between the Soviet Union and Cuba – just as the attack on Pearl Harbor strengthened the relationship between the US and Great Britain – others argued that the embargo gave Castro an excuse for Cuba’s lack of prosperity. In a time when Cuba was plagued by problems, critics feared Castro would be able to shrug his shoulders and say, “What? It’s not me; blame the cigars.”
To this day, the embargo continues to be looked on negatively by members of the United Nations. Each year the UN calls, by a large majority vote, for the US to lift its embargo and each year the US refuses.
No American wanted Communism to spread throughout the world, believing that the form of government that works for insect colonies would not necessarily work for humans, but no American wanted cigars from Cuba to become illegal either.
JFK himself was among those who indulged in the luxuries of a Cuban Cigar. In fact, knowing the embargo was imminent, JFK sent his press secretary out to obtain a stockpile of Cuban Cigars on the eve before he signed the Executive Order.
For those who didn’t have the inside information of the President, the Cuban Cigar embargo ended a cigar democracy Americans had come to love and expect.
Just as Prohibition forever changed the alcohol industry, the Cuban Cigar embargo forever changed the cigar industry; it is as if all the government needs to do to shake up any industry is make something about that industry cohiba illegal. While Prohibition saw bootleggers and wine smuggling, the Cuban Cigar embargo saw the black market obtain a best selling item.
And, of course, anytime anything comes onto the black market, counterfeiters sit by licking their lips and waiting for unsuspecting purchasers. This is particularly true with Cuban Cigars. While they are seemingly easy to get inside the US, everyone has a friend who has a friend who sells them, those patrons who purchase them have a better chance of being scammed than obtaining the real thing.
The Cuban Cigar embargo also added to the cigar’s already exciting reputation: smoking something illegal often seems more fun than smoking something not prohibited by law. Banning the cigars drew attention to them and, as soon as smokers learned they couldn’t have them, they wanted them even more. This resulted in a boom in the black market (Cuban Cigars began circulating everywhere), an upslope of cigar smuggling (people began transporting Cuban Cigars from Canada, where the embargo did not exist) and a foundation of counterfeiting (some people were able to quit their day jobs and start a business peddling fake Cubans, not much of a dental plan, bu