One of the most iconic cigar-smoking figures of the 20th century, Fidel Castro was rarely seen without a cigar. A controversial figure, Castro was a communist revolutionary who governed Cuba for almost 50 years. Not only was this political figure a fan of cigars, but he was also integral to the way the Cuban tobacco industry works. We take a look at this legendary cigar smoker’s life, his relationship with cigars, and the impact he has had on the industry.
Castro was born in Cuba in 1926. The son of a Spanish immigrant who had become prosperous as a sugarcane farmer in Cuba, and one of seven children, Castro spent his childhood living with tutors and in Roman Catholic Boarding Schools. In 1945, Castro began a law degree at the University of Havana, where he became involved in student activism.
After taking part in a number of protests and campaigns against Latin American governments and leaders, Castro joined the socialist group the Party of the Cuban People in 1947. Now known as a prominent figure in protests and public speeches, Castro’s politics became increasingly left, heavily influenced by Marxism and the writings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.
After graduating as a Doctor of Law in 1950, Castro joined the Cuban People’s Party and became their candidate for a seat in the House of Representatives. However, before the elections could take place, the former Cuban president, General Batista, overthrew the government and began a dictatorship.
Batista’s political actions went against everything Castro had been fighting for, so he formed a group of revolutionaries, with the intention of sparking uprisings. However, his first attempt, the Moncada Barracks attack of 1953 backfired, with many of his men executed, and Castro imprisoned. During his two years in prison, Castro had spent his time reading Marxist works and corresponding with his supporters.
After his release in 1955, Fidel and his brother Raul fled to Mexico, where they met Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara. In 1956, Castro and 81 armed revolutionaries began the journey back to Cuba onboard an old yacht, which ran aground, forcing them to flee inland. Only 19 revels made it to their destination, but despite this, were able to raid army posts for weaponry and gain local recruits. Using guerrilla warfare tactics and a propaganda campaign, Castro led his forces to win several victories against Batista’s government. With public and US support ending, Batista fled the country on January 1st, 1959 and Castro became Prime Minister of Cuba.
Premiership and Presidency
After coming to power, Castro began to pursue radical policy reforms, nationalising industries and instituting land reforms to redistribute wealth. Following a trade agreement with the Soviet Union in 1960, the US became distrustful, severed economic ties with a trade embargo and unsuccessfully tried to overthrow Castro’s government.
Castro created a one-party government to control all aspects of Cuba’s politics, economy and culture. Any opposition was suppressed, and many upper- and middle-class Cuban residents immigrated to the US. However, under Castro’s leadership, all Cuban citizens had equal and free access to health services and education, as well as having guaranteed employment. In 1976, Castro became President of Cuba as part of a newly created National Assembly. Cuba was reliant on economic support from the Soviet Union, so when the Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba was left in economic decline, and social unrest began.
In 2006, following some health issues, Fidel Castro provisionally passed control to his brother Raul, who officially took over as President in 2008. Castro passed away on 25th November 2016, at the age of 90.
Fidel Castro and Cigars
Castro first started smoking cigars at the age of 15, when his father introduced him to the habit. Until the 1980s, Castro was almost always photographed with a cigar in hand, making it a symbol of sorts for him. Under Castro’s leadership, the Cuban tobacco industry was overhauled and nationalised, turned into a state company called Cubatabaco in 1962. Cigars are one of Cuba’s most important exports, and Castro certainly agreed. The cigar industry is one of the main sources of revenue for Cuba, and now distributes and exports cigars worldwide under Habanos S.A.
Due to Castro’s controversial politics, there were many attempts to assassinate him by the US. In fact, Castro believed that there were over 600 attempts made on his life. Some of these attempts even involved cigars, due to the fact that he was a renowned cigar smoker. He was reportedly given cigars poisoned with botulinum toxin, as well as a cigar that would have exploded when lit!
Cohiba was Castro’s favourite brand of cigar, claiming that they provide the perfect smoking experience. Cohiba was established in 1966 as a limited production brand exclusive to Fidel Castro. Castro would give Cohiba cigars as diplomatic gifts, and they were not commercially available to the public until 1982. In 1993, a box of 50 Cohiba Lanceros signed by Castro sold for £12,000 at a charity dinner.
Castro stopped smoking at the age of 59, due to a general health issue in Cuba against smoking. Wanting to be an example to the country, Castro quit smoking and was able to stay smoke-free, despite 44 years of enjoying cigars.
Image Credit: Ninian Reid under Creative Commons 2.0