September 22, 2015

THE POPE OF MONTECRISTO: Michael Ledeen writes that “The story of Cuban cigars is a good metaphor for the failure of Communist tyranny, and I think it’s shameful that the first Jesuit pope in history apparently intends to talk mostly about the weather instead of freedom:”

Back in Camelot days, Cuba produced the world’s best cigars.  JFK smoked them, as did his press secretary, Pierre Salinger.  It was said at the time that the president instructed Salinger to obtain a huge stash of cigars from the vuelta abajo in order to beat the imposition of the embargo.  I always believed that story, and I’ve got a footnote for it.  Years later, when Salinger was working as a reporter for ABC News in Paris, we had lunch one day and he showed me his personal supply of his personal Cuban cigars:  they had a “Pierre Salinger” band (as I recall, they were Churchills from Partagas).

Americans have been forbidden to import Cuban cigars ever since, but this is apparently about to end as one of the elements of Obama’s deal with the Castros. When I heard the pope was headed for Havana, I wondered if the Castros were planning to give him a box of “Francis” cigars. And I also wondered if anyone had briefed him on the current state of Cuban cigars. Which is, let us say, not what it once was.

I spend a fair amount of time in Europe, where there is no Cuban embargo, and thus you can buy all the Cuban cigars you want. I’ve had some, but for the most part I’ve given them up. The Dominicans and Nicaraguans are much better cigars nowadays. The great Cuban cigar makers brought tobacco seed with them when they fled Castro’s tyranny, and over the course of the past half-century they have gotten better and better. More important, they have good quality control, whereas the Cubans don’t.

As P.J. O’Rourke once wrote, “It’s impossible to get decent Chinese takeout in China, Cuban cigars are rationed in Cuba, and that’s all you need to know about communism.” And the story about JFK and his cronies hoarding Cuban cigars before banning them reflects almost as  poorly on Camelot. But then, the left have always loved their drawbridges.

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