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 He has never smoked, yet he considers himself a tobacco bard, not only because he comes from a tobacco-related family, but also because he by and large sees in the smoke of Habanos the dreams of the Cubans, the perfect confluence among music, poetry, literature and, of course, the national identity. Eusebio Leal Spengler, the city historian, wallows in the fact that the tobacco festivity becomes a universal event every year, and now two decades later, it’s undeniable for him that each festival takes the Cuban identity to new heights.

“From the moment Christopher Columbus mentioned for the first time the encounter between those men who appeared to carry a burning stick in their lips to date, tobacco turned out to be the evolution of the best-qualified handcraft of Cuba’s productive craftsmanship. I strongly believe Cuban tobacco holds the dregs of the Cuban people’s artisanal beauty, both due to its origin –I mean what goes on in the plantations- and what actually happens in the factory, what happens to the smoker, the connoisseur, especially those who cherish, look after, love and enjoy tobacco. “The smoke of the Habano holds the dreams of the Cubans in a big way. Nobody can talk about the cigar factories or the Habanos without recalling the struggles of the tobacco planters, the exile of the workers during the great independence wars and of course, Jose Marti’s apostolic work, so closely linked to this.”

His family hails from Pinar del Río and all workers in his hometown viewed the moving of the factories out of Pinar del Río –especially the ones in Guanajay and Artemisa- to Havana as a labor victory. He says trade union wars were waged; he talks about how female cigar rollers, leaf vein strippers and other employees were whisked off at four in the morning all the way to the Jose Lepiedra cigar factory in Marianao. He remembers that lovely scent impregnated in the clothes of his uncles –not the perfume of smoked cigars, but rather rolled cigars- whenever they got back home.

The Habano Festival, held in the Cuban capital over the past twenty years, has been an open window to the world at a time when others were trying to corral our country, he says. “I think tobacco has been Cuba’s best ambassador because everybody looks forward to getting a cigar box as a gift, at least three cigars or a bundle of cigars”.

When asked about what Habano means to Cuba, the city historian doesn’t think twice. “Identity, personality, dignity; tobacco is not blended with the blood of the slaves because tobacco was always a free creation, from the plantations to the factories and workshops where laborers are making them, rolling them, preparing them. Tobacco is and will always be a symbol of freedom. And I think that the way tobacco is realized, that is, in the lips of the smoker, whether it’s a he or a she, and the way it goes up in smoke, is somehow men’s dreams that come true, that dream among smokers of going beyond and enjoying and reveling in the act of smoking.”

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