In a move that could prove far more productive than secretly infiltrating Cuba’s underground hip-hop scene, President Obama announced on Wednesday a new era for U.S. and Cuban relations, that could include easing travel and banking restrictions as well as the possible lifting of the 50-year-old embargo.
The day also brings some historic cigar-related news.
American travelers will now be allowed to legally bring back $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol products for personal consumption, according to a senior administration official. (Perhaps the guards at the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities will finally be allowed to smoke cubans, too.)
Cuban cigars are world-renowned for their quality and craftsmanship, and Americans have loved this major Cuban export for decades. President John F. Kennedy ordered his press secretary to buy him as many H. Upmann Cuban cigars as he could before his administration’s total embargo was imposed. There’s been a Seinfeld episode about Kramer desperately hunting down Cuban cigars. Country singer Brad Paisley has a song about the cigars, and Jay Z was photographed chomping on a Cuban cigar during his and Beyoncé’s trip to the communist nation last year.
They’re so popular that in 2010, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency reported a dramatic spike in the number of Cuban cigars being illegally brought into the United States.
There are plenty of American businesses that have been waiting years for the embargo to lift, including Marcus Daniel Tobacconist in Naples, Fla., whose owner has been prepping his “Cuba Plan” in anticipation of such a policy shift.
“I think I’m gonna send a box of Marcus Daniel A’s to both President Obama and President Castro for a job well done!” Marcus Daniel told The Daily Beast following Obama’s speech. (He was referring to his brand’s “presidential-size” cigars.) “A healing between the nations and the people is long overdue. From a humanitarian perspective, it’s hard for most people to wrap their heads around how hard life has been for Cubans.”
As for the U.S. government potentially lifting the embargo (it’s still in place pending congressional action), Daniel is keeping his fingers tightly crossed.
“I hope Congress gets busy quick,” he said. “It’ll be great for our economy, as well. Florida is right here! There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Perhaps we’ll even be able to blend Cuban tobacco with Dominican tobacco. Or Nicaraguan tobacco.”
As you digest the news, here’s a documentary on the history of those famous Cuban cigars: