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Cigar 101: The Cuban Embargo – will it be lifted?

Cuban tobacco field.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba. It was in 1960 when Castro overthrew the Cuban government and began seizing property, including properties owned by American citizens. In response, the U.S. government has over time tightened trade and travel restrictions to Cuba, almost completely cutting off all interaction with the Carribean communist nation.

But you didn’t come here for a history lesson. Bottom line — when will this embargo be lifted so we can get our hands on some Cubans? We’ll address that question in a minute, but first, an important point must be made: Cubans ain’t what they used to be. It’s not necessarily the Cuban cigar that has changed, but the industry around it. Cigars now made in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras and other locations have met and even surpassed the quality of Cuban cigars. Yes, any assessment of quality is subjective, but no one can argue that non-Cuban premium cigars have enjoyed a huge boost in popularity and quality over the 50 years. Cubans will always have that certain something that sets them apart, but these other premiums have unarguably caught up and then some.

“All right, fine, I get that other cigars are great, I still want my Cubans.” Trust me, we do too. We think they’re tasty as hell and obviously we’d like to sell them. We’ve even made some contacts in Cuba in case the embargo lifts, so that we can be one of the first to offer Cuban cigars to America.

Unfortunately, despite the Cold War having ended, our relations with Cuba are still a political minefield. Recent remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicate that the embargo is unlikely to be lifted this year or next. Neither America nor Cuba seem to be willing to take more than the smallest baby steps toward reconciliation. This recent article from the New York Times probes the probability of a lifted embargo and comes up with slim odds. While both sides are reportedly “working on it”, the Obama administration has continued its pointed criticism of Cuba, and Castro has fired right back.

What will lift the embargo? One of the main factors, unsurprisingly, is money. As Communist countries take on pseudo-capitalist economic strategies, international business is growing, and Cuba is no exception. It already does billions in business with 200 other nations, but is blocked from nearly all trade with the United States. If American corporations raise enough of a stink, embargoes could be softened. However, as it stands now, doing business in Cuba is not a high priority for U.S. corporations. There are bigger fish to fry, and Cuba is still a very difficult place to do business on American terms. Despite its limited success in courting the globalized economy, Cuba still is, after all, a one-party Socialist state.

There are many delegations of Cubans and Cuban-Americans who argue to lift the ban based on humanitarian reasons. They claim that Cuba is impoverished and corrupt in part because they are unable to acquire the necessary goods from their northern neighbors to stabilize their society and become true players on the world stage. The U.S. fires back that Cuba’s problems are due to being a Communist dictatorship and that it must change its ways to join the international community. As you can see, times may have changed economically, but politically speaking, Cuba’s 11 million-strong Socialist state is a fairly insignificant blip on America’s radar compared to countries like China and Russia.

Sorry Cuban cigar fans! Looks like you’ll be waiting a while longer for that hassle-free Cuban smoke. But rest assured if the situation does change, we’ll be the one of the first on the block with the Cubans, and we promise we won’t bore you with the politics again. In the meantime, enjoy those stogies from other Equatorial countries. We’d also love to hear your two cents on all this Cuban embargo business in the comments section.

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