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Is it time for a real Cuban cigar?

From the Editor's Notebook

June 7, 2015
by Chuck Hunt - Register Editor ( , Faribault County Register

I have to admit that, like many people my age, I have a fascination with the country of Cuba.

I think it mainly has to do with this strange relationship the United States of America has had with the Republic of Cuba during my lifetime.

After all, since the time I was nine years old, in 1959, American citizens have not been allowed to go there.

Fidel Castro led a revolution and then turned Cuba into a communist country, one that is located just 90 miles from U.S. soil. The U.S. and Cuba ceased having diplomatic relations and the U.S. government, along with other countries, put a trade embargo and travel restrictions on our relationship with Cuba.

For many Americans that meant one thing. No more Cuban cigars.

Then there was the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, where the U.S. backed some 1,500 former Cuban citizens who invaded Cuba in 1962 trying to overthrow Castro. It failed. And of course, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when Cuba's ally and supporter, Russia, had put nuclear missiles on Cuban soil.

I remember those days very well. We were at the brink of nuclear war.

But the strange relationship with Cuba goes way back before my time.

Didn't we once "own" Cuba?

I think the U.S. tried to buy Cuba from Spain several times in the 1800s.

Then after the Spanish-American War of 1898, the U.S. paid Spain $20 million and got the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam and Cuba.

That war, by the way, started with the mysterious sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in the Havana, Cuba, harbor. The American battle cry during the war was "Remember the Maine!"

In 1902 we said OK to Cuba being an independent nation.

However, we retained one piece of land on the island, a military base called Guantanamo Bay. Somehow we have kept this base all these years, even during all these strained (or non-existent) relations with the Cuban communist government.

Doesn't that strike anyone else as being extremely odd?

We have sent Cuba a rent check for the property, $5,000, every month. And Cuba has never cashed the checks. If they ever do, our government checkbook will take a big hit.

Before 1959, Cuba was a big tourist destination for Americans. It had beautiful beaches, fancy hotels, and the nightclub life in Havana was famous around the world.

Havana was one of the busiest cities in all of the Caribbean.

That all stopped. At least for Americans. But maybe not for everyone.

A couple of years ago I was in Mexico and visiting with some fellow tourists who were from Canada.

They said they had gone on vacation in Cuba the year before.

I was surprised and said I didn't think we could go on vacation to Cuba.

Their answer was "You can't go there, but we Canadians can."

Many other countries have kept some relationship with Cuba over the years, especially since the collapse of Russia in 1990.

Russia had been one of the prime supporters of Cuba throughout the years.

But other countries have also been doing business and commerce with the Cuban government.

That is one reason why we can buy Cuban cigars in places around the world, including, I can attest to, a tobacco store located in the very center of downtown Copenhagen, Denmark.

We are just not supposed to bring any of these cigars back into the U.S. Which of course, I have never done (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

The truth of the matter is, there are fine cigars grown in Honduras or the Dominican Republic, using Cuban tobacco seeds, that are just as good as an actual Cuban.

But, it is the mystique of the Cuban cigar. It is the reputation that they have.

Plus, it is the fact that we are not allowed to have them.

It is the old "forbidden fruit" syndrome. I want what I cannot have.

Now it appears we may soon be able to buy a Cuban cigar in America, legally. Or go on vacation to Cuba, visit Havana, sit on one of their beautiful beaches, sipping a little Cuban rum.

Who would have ever thought that was going to happen?

And maybe all of this will mean a better life for the Cuban people, who have suffered an awful lot over the years. Conditions were so bad there that many have fled the country over the years.

Cuba is still a communist/socialist nation, where the government owns and operates nearly everything. It has only been in the past couple of years that Cubans could even own their homes.

Maybe things are finally changing, after 50 years of virtually no change at all.

I guess we will all just have to wait and see what happens next.



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