When former-President Barrack Obama announced a loosening of the Cuban-US relations after over a half-century of embittered Cold War-era policies, cigar aficionados across America let out a collective roar of ecstasy followed by sighs of relief. After so many years of drooling over Cuba’s “forbidden fruit” and years of hope that one day the Cuban trade embargo would be lifted, cigar lovers can finally enjoy without much limitation all of the cigar treasures Cuba has to offer.
But for how long?
This is a question that has been dogging Cuban cigar enthusiasts ever since current President Donald Trump has vowed to reverse the policies set forth by ex-President Obama, who has alluded along with a great many experts that the opening of Cuba could very well prove nearly impossible to reverse. The fear of many Cuban-loving cigar aficionados is, however, that if anyone is capable of doing the unthinkable, doing what everyone says cannot be done, it is President Trump.
Trump’s apparent desire to reverse at least some of Obama’s policies is driven, in part, by Cuba’s human rights transgressions. Concerns have also arisen about Cuba’s military and its involvement in Cuba’s economy which American companies highly covet and seek to reap the rewards of the newly opened market. Trump also heavily courted the Cuban-American contingent during the run-up to his election and may look to honor his promise of a stronger stance on the Cuban government’s supposed suppression of political freedoms. Together this could all spell disaster for those looking for an endless supply of the best Cuban cigars.
Obama argued that lifting the embargo would bring a greater openness that in theory would help alleviate much of Cuba’s human rights violations, while also encouraging more transparent economic and political dealings. While Obama’s lifting of the embargo opened a dialogue with Cuba and brought about hope that antiquated Cold War attitudes would be left far behind which in turn would hopefully prove a boon for both the US and Cuban economies, the policy reversal has not been without its bumps and bruises.
The policy itself did not receive an overwhelmingly warm reception from members of either side of the aisle in Congress, some of whom have fought for tightening rather than loosening of restrictions as punishment for Cuba’s apparent continuation of transgressions. Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, have both been vocal about the dangers that may follow Obama’s policy change. And while Obama challenged Congress to lift the embargo entirely, other members of Congress, meanwhile, questioned Obama’s legal authority to make the changes or rather reinterpretations of the trade embargo he made without greater approval by the House or Senate.
The reversal also received jeers from a slice of the Cuban-American community who’s support for the embargo, although waning, has been crucial in the use of trade restrictions as a weapon in the fight to bring down the much-despised Castro regime, a communist regime that set countless Cuban families (including many cigar-making families) to fleeing to the US and abroad in order to escape the treachery of Fidel Castro’s dictatorial reign.
Others are fearful that such openness will help fill Cuban coffers with US dollars while only taking away jobs from hard-working Americans. Throw in a whole host of legal questions from the economic, political and social sectors and suddenly the “easing” of tensions between Cuba and the US proves an ordeal fraught with pitfalls. And yet Obama was able to shift the status quo, for better or for worse, leading to the availability of legal Cuban cigars which Americans can now enjoy to their hearts’ content.
At least for the time being.
Cuban cigars have, in fact, been available legally to American citizens for a number of years, albeit with rigid restrictions. Before Obama’s lift of the embargo, only on an officially licensed visit to Cuba could an American traveler bring back into the US cigars, $100 worth or up to 25 cigars, whichever came first. The policy now in place allows for any American visitor to return from any country with nearly as many Cuban cigars as they can carry, provided the cigars are only for personal use. Cigar lovers shouldn’t expect to see their favorite Cuban cigar brands popping up at their nearest cigar shop any time soon, however, as legal and true Cuban cigars still remain elusive within the US.
While Cuban cigars are not yet legally available for sale within US borders either online or in stores, this easing of restrictions is indeed a step in the right direction in the eyes of a great many cigar enthusiasts. And yet Obama’s directive does not address this great conundrum of the Cuban cigar issue: That of the American market and licensing of Cuban goods.
All of Cuba’s official cigars sold in Cuba and around the World are licensed by Habanos S. A., a division of Cubatabaco, the government-run arm of Cuba’s tobacco industry. For Cuban cigars to be sold within the US, cigar shops would have to be officially licensed by, in essence, the Cuban government. This in itself causes a host of issues, but would possibly only be compounded by the problem of how the cigars would be distributed and if Cuba could keep up with demand, let alone deal with the already immense problem of unlicensed counterfeit cigars that continues to plague Cuban cigar makers.
And with many non-Cuban cigars sold in the US sharing names with cigars made in Cuba, such as Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and Partagas, the endless parade of legal motions over trademarks could possibly drag out the process, keeping Cuban smokes tied up in courts and out of the hands of cigar lovers for years to come. Many detractors have also argued that allowing a Communist-run entity that is consistently shadowed by questions about human rights and political freedoms to hold licensing rights within the US would be detrimental to the American economy, undermining the authority of the United States in diplomatic matters and further damaging the international image of the US.
These issues may be moot, however, if President Trump does indeed bring about at least a partial reversal of Obama’s historic directives. And yet it could still prove difficult to completely slam the door shut on Cuba now that the door has been kicked wide open. The attitude for most Cuban cigar aficionados seems to be “Keep it open and we’ll take our chances.”
While Trump and his team weigh their options and decide on either a full reinstatement of the embargo, a partial revamping of Cuban trade restrictions or a rebranding of sorts of the current policy, cigar enthusiasts across the land can only sit back, spark up and wait for whatever the future brings, a future that will be either peppered with forbidden Cuban contraband or filled with fully legal Cuban treasures.
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