Cuba and the future

15 Jan

I smoke Cigars. The very best cigar I have ever smoked was Cuban. So were several of the very worst, and I started with Muriel Air Tips. I have an interest in what happens to Cuba and to the embargo on Cuban goods in the United States.

I have observed for a while now what I think is the beginnings of a campaign to lift that embargo soon after the occasion of Fidel Castro’s death. Ever since Fidel stepped down from official power in favor of his brother Raul, I have run into assertions in the mainstream media that “Raul is not the hardliner that Fidel was”. This is so much eyewash. Raul has, essentially forever, been his brother’s designated leg-breaker and executioner. Somebody wants to pave the way for a “Cuba isn’t as bad as it was, why are they still under an embargo” movement. I’m not against it, mind. The embargo is silly. If Cuba is a threat, they we should invade. If Cuba is simply your garden variety Communist pesthole, then the embargo serves no purpose other than to garner the votes of Cuban-Americans, who (with good reason) detest the Cuban government and might vote against anybody that moves to end the embargo.
I have no idea if this groundwork I see being laid will succeed. The Cuban government, the opinions of lefty intellectuals notwithstanding, has about the same degree of legitimacy as a modern day pretender to the Stuart throne. But so does the government of mainland China. What I am prepared to state categorically is that the end of the embargo, if it does not accompany a radical change on the Cuban government, will cause the quality of Cuban cigars to hit rock bottom and stay there for five to ten years.
Command and control economies have a long history of quality control problems, and Cuba’s is no exception. Even genuine Cuban cigars (and there are lots of fakes out there) from top brands are notorious for being hit-or-miss. ¬†Furthermore, reports inside the industry are that for years, even decades, the Cuban government (like all governments) has been skimping on maintenance costs, with predictable results. Should the embargo fall it is inevitable that the Cuban government will try to expand its most valuable export into the U.S. market. Since they are already selling all the cigars they can make, this will mean that they will be trying to ramp up production of a product that takes craftsmanship to produce, with facilities that have been neglected. This is not a recipe for success.
Even assuming that the Cuban government realizes its problem now, and is already setting up deals for investment money to remediate past deficiencies and for future expansion, the immediate result of the embargo’s fall will be poor quality and higher prices. It takes three years to go from seedling to properly aged leaf. The Cuban government has no extra funds and won’t before there is a real prospect of expansion in the very near future. Communist governments are notoriously bad loan risks. Very probably there will be no outside money forthcoming before the actual fall of the embargo, and that assumes that the Cuban government knows that they have a problem. If they don’t, then expect further delays.
If money poured into the Cuban cigar business tomorrow, and was properly directed, it wouldn’t even start to have a positive effect on the number of good cigars produced for three years, because that is how long it takes for the crop to grow and age. Cigars made with young leaf simply are not worth smoking. Even with a crash course of investment in infrastructure and so forth, it would almost certainly take at least two years before effects would be felt in the quality of tobacco being harvested. Add that to the three year cycle and you get half a decade, minimum.
If trade is opened up with Cuba, I will look forward to greatly expanding my acquaintance with Cuban cigars. In ten years, or when I hear that things have settled down. Before that I expect I would get more pleasure from lighting a block of shoe polish.
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