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Cigar Culture

Fidel Castro & His Favorite Cigars

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

Fidel Castro was a revolutionary and a dictator. And he will always be identified with Cuba’s most famous product, the Cuban cigar. While the story, or myth, of Castro’s “discovery” of the Cohiba is well known, he didn’t start smoking them until he was in his forties. But he began smoking cigars after his biological father (Fidel was born “out of wedlock”) gave Fidel his first stogie at the age of 15. So, what did Fidel smoke before the Cohiba?

CASTRO’S EARLY CIGARS

If Fidel Castro began smoking at the age of 15, or around 1941, the brands he is thought to have favored include Partagás, Bauzá, H. Upmann and particularly the Romeo y Julieta Churchill. Castro seems to have always favored slimmer cigars, like the Churchill with its 47 ring gauge, but he would smoke several in a row.

THE COHIBA LEGEND, BRIEFLY

In the early days of the revolutionary government, Castro certainly made cigar smoking popular, especially in Cuba. If the story is to be believed, Castro’s own bodyguard was the inspiration for the creation of the Cohiba brand, today Cuba’s most treasured cigar. The prototype for the Cohiba that went into production after Castro anointed it was a fuma, a smoke, made by a friend of the bodyguard. This was a long, thin Panetela with a pigtail cap.

In 1966, when Castro decided to create the El Laguito factory for the production of the cigar, the Cohiba Lancero was created (originally it was called the ‘El Laguito #1’), keeping the signature pigtail. This also marked the invention of the Lancero shape, 7.5 x 38.

The Cohiba remained Castro’s private cigar and one he would give out to high-ranking diplomats and government officials. In 1969, the brand was officially launched, but was not available for purchase until 1982. The first Cohibas were the Panetela, the Lancero, and the Corona Especial.

CIGAR MOOCHER-IN-CHIEF

Before reportedly moving on exclusively to Cohibas, Castro would smoke whatever he had on hand or whatever you had in your pocket, according to Cuban author and one-time Castro confidante, the late Guillermo Cabrera Infante who recounts in his book, Holy Smoke, being with the dictator on a visit to a ranch in eastern Cuba.

“When night fell I watched a Western on television. Castro came into the room to watch the show and immediately he asked: ‘Who has a cigar?’ I had four Havanas (Por Larrañaga) in my shirt pocket, very visible in the moonlight of the prairie. So I said I had. I had to. I also had to give him a cigar.”

“Castro asked for a second cigar. Then for a third.” At the end of the movie, “Castro stood up, all uniformed and pistoled six feet of him, and commented: ‘Too many songs and not enough Indians.’ We all agreed. Our Prime Minister was our first film critic too. He was also the sole talker, as usual.” Before retiring for the evening, Castro “turned to me and said: ‘I see we have one Indian left.’ He was pointing at my pocket and not at my head: he meant my last cigar. ‘Do you mind if I borrow it?’”

CASTRO STOPS SMOKING

If he began at the age of 15 and stopped at 59, Castro smoked for 44 years. He stopped in 1985 over health concerns and reports that he had cancer. At the same time, an anti-smoking campaign was launched in Cuba. Castro also supposedly did not smoke during the revolution itself, prior to taking power in 1959. Castro reportedly stopped smoking during the rebellion in support of a peasant revolt against the cigar industry.

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