Smoked out

April 29, 2011

ONE of the reforms approved at this month’s Congress of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party was a change in the treatment of the country’s 3,000 or so state-owned enterprises. Their management will enjoy more autonomy, but they will be subjected to thorough audits. That follows a trickle of corruption scandals. The latest involves Habanos, the state cigar monopoly.

For over a decade Manuel García, Habanos’s commercial vice-president, was the public face of the Cuban cigar industry, living a jet-set life that most Cubans can only dream of. But this year Mr García was not there to greet visitors at the Havana cigar festival. Since August 2010 he has been in jail, accused of masterminding graft on a grand scale.

The cigar industry was nationalised shortly after the 1959 revolution. But it was only in the late 1980s that Cuba took control of distribution, informing foreign retailers that it would supply only one distributor per region, in return for a 50% stake in the business.

That did not prevent the small-scale peddling of black-market cigars on the streets of Havana. But in the past decade the system has faced a bigger threat from dozens of online cigar retailers operating mainly from Switzerland and the Caribbean. Many operated legitimately, but some offered improbably low prices.

Cuban investigators believe they were able to do so because Mr García and ten of his staff, who also face trial, sold genuine cigars at a fraction of their normal price to black-market distributors in the Caribbean in return for bribes. Up to 45m cigars may have been sold this way. Since handmade habanos fetch up to £40 ($65) each in shops in the St James’s district of London, the loss was considerable.

The fraud also hurt Imperial Tobacco, a British company which inherited a 50% stake in Habanos when it bought Altadis, a Franco-Spanish firm, in 2008. Imperial has made no comment on the affair. But like the government, it will hope that the new management team at Habanos preserves the lucrative monopoly in Cuba’s most famous product. 



Recent Articles

Date Title
4/29/11 Cuban inventor turns trash into farm tools
Jeff Franks, Reuters
4/29/11 Current Record
4/29/11 Report: A leader of Cuba’s cigar industry arrested
Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald
4/28/11 Made in Cuba
Margarita Alarcon, The Huffington Post
4/28/11 Cuban court issues positive ruling in lawsuit
Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald
4/27/11 Cuba adjusts plans amid price hikes, weather fears
Marc Frank, Reuters
4/27/11 Survey: 75% of U.S. consumers interested in Cuba visit
Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel
4/27/11 Senior official at U.S. Embassy in Caracas to lead U.S. mission in Cuba
Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald
4/27/11 Loans and taxes may prove daunting for Cuba economic reforms
Frances Robles, Miami Herald
4/26/11 Raul Castro’s same old Cuba
Editorial Opinion, Washington Post
4/26/11 Cuba's next revolution
Editorial Opinion, Los Angeles Times
4/25/11 Cuba libre?
John Paul Rathbone and Marc Frank, Financial Times
4/25/11 Newly arrived Cuban doctors face immigration delays
Alfonso Chardy, El Nuevo Herald
4/25/11 Cuba Study Group releases report on support to small businesses in Cuba
Microfinance Focus
4/22/11 New guidelines issued for travel to Cuba
Jaen Engle, Los Angeles Times
4/21/11 Raul Castro: Be patient for generational change
Paul Haven, AP
4/21/11 Cuban Congress an ‘indictment of past 50 years’
Marifeli Perez-Stable, Miami Herald
4/21/11 Castro hails 'new generation' of Cuba leaders, but appoints old guard
Sara Miller Llana, Christian Science Monitor
4/20/11 Cuba's New Guard Borrows From the Old Guard
Nicholas Casey, The Wall Street Journal
4/20/11 Fidel Castro officially removed as head of Cuban Communist Party
Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times
4/20/11 Fidel not included in Cuban leadership
Paul Haven, The Washington Times
4/20/11 Cuba approves landmark economic reforms
Marc Frank, Financial Times
4/20/11 Cuba Lays Foundation for a New Leader
Randal C. Archibold, The New York Times
4/19/11 Cuban Communist Party begins voting on leadership
Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald
4/19/11 A historical look at the Cuban Communist Party Congress
Frances Robles, Miami Herald
4/19/11 China praises Communist-led ally Cuba for embarking on major economic reforms
AP, Washington Post
4/18/11 Cuba's Communist Party approves sweeping changes
Peter Orsi, AP
4/18/11 Castro critics call term limits cosmetic
Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald
4/18/11 Cuban dissidents are talking about unity
Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald
4/18/11 Ageing Cuban leadership seeks new blood
Marc Frank, Financial Times
4/16/11 Cuba's Castro proposes setting limits for public office
Shasta Darlington, CNN
4/15/11 Critical Communist Party Congress begins Saturday in Cuba
Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald
4/15/11 Micro-entrepreneurs emerge ahead of crucial Cuban congress
Shasta Darlington, CNN
4/15/11 Cuba gears up for key Communist summit
AP
4/15/11 US fears Cuba oil drilling, Mexico suggests talks
Tom Doggett, Reuters
4/13/11 Cuban Communist Party congress looks to future
Jeff Franks, Reuters
4/13/11 Chronology: Raul Castro's road to reform in Cuba
Marc Frank, Reuters
4/13/11 Coast Guard, company dispute Cuba barge incident
Trenton Daniel, Miami Herald
4/12/11 A disabled barge adrift in Cuban waters hits a reef and sinks. U.S. firm blames Cubans
Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald
4/11/11 Oscar Elías Biscet says Cuban dissidents are willing to discuss transitional government
Juan Carlos Chavez, El Nuevo Herald
4/11/11 50 years after Bay of Pigs, Cuba eyes new course
Isabel Sanchez, AFP
4/11/11 US-Cuba anniversary shows how stuck ties are
Lachlan Carmichael, AP
4/9/11 New entrepreneurs in Cuba get mixed results
Paul Haven, AP
4/7/11 Cuban business group calls for easing US sanctions
4/7/11 Report offers recommendations on how to support small business in Cuba
Cuba Study Group
4/7/11 Experts seek to help Cuban entrepreneurs
4/7/11 Cuba reports sugar production to be akin to 2010
Peter Orsi, Miami Herald
4/7/11 Cuban Sugar Ministry says 2011 production to be similar or just higher than last year
AP, Washington Post
4/7/11 U.S. groups offer to aid small biz in Cuba
Renato Perez, Cuban Colada
4/7/11 For Cuba policy, new ally at the DNC
Frank Calzon, Miami Herald
4/7/11 What Jimmy Carter can’t change in Cuba
Yoani Sanchez, The Washington Post
4/7/11 Cuban business group calls for easing US sanctions
Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald
4/7/11 U.S. urged to support Cuba's nascent private sector
EFE, El Nuevo Herald
4/7/11 Experts seek to help Cuban entrepreneurs
Laura Wides-Muñoz, AP
4/6/11 Cuba, partners to drill 5 Gulf wells this summer
Andrea Rodriguez, Miami Herald
4/6/11 Former President Carter’s Cuba report draws fire
Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald
4/1/11 Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to Cuba, March 28-30, 2011
The Carter Center for Peace