The History of Cohiba

To celebrate this week’s Habanos Cigar Festival we’ve dug into the archives to celebrate the Cuban cigar world’s flagship marque. The Cohiba has become synonymous with the tiny island nation as well as the Commandante’s revolution. The brand has a legendary history, but most importantly, writes Nick Foulkes, originally as a feature in Issue 46 of The Rake, the experience of smoking a Cohiba remains one of life’s indelible pleasures.
Fidel Castro, then newly appointed as Prime Minister of Cuba, at a New York press conference. (Photo by I.C. Rapoport/Getty Images)

Some time during the heat of the battle in the summer of 1815, an eager artillery officer is supposed to have rushed up to the side of the Duke of Wellington, to tell him that Napoleon was within range and to request permission to fire. The laconic Wellington supposedly turned a baleful eye upon the eager soldier and informed him that, "It is not the business of commanders to be firing upon one another." It would, one assumes, have been ungentlemanly to attempt to bump off one’s opponent. Far better to win the battle by straightforward means, even if it meant tens of thousands of men losing their lives.

If history is to be believed, Wellington seems to have spent much of his life talking in pithy one-liners. So it would have been interesting to hear what the Iron Duke would have had to say about the president of the United States’ desire to do away with Fidel Castro. The way Fabian Escalante, former chief of Cuban State Security, puts it in his book ‘The Secret War’ such was the frequency of the C.I.A.’s attempts to take out the Commandante that you could set your watch by them. "During the year 1962 and within the context of Operation Mongoose, the C.I.A. and the counter-revolutionary organisations dreamed up dozens of plans to assassinate Fidel Castro," Escalante wrote. "It was the time when the United States administration was most determined to rid itself of the Cuban government, believing that decapitating the revolution was fundamental to achieving its objectives."

In a roundabout way, I am rather grateful to the C.I.A. for trying so assiduously to bump off Fidel, for without their lethal but laughable attempts to kill the Cuban leader (think tuberculosis infected diving gear), the history of the post-revolutionary Havana cigar might have been very different.

Of course the most famous method of trying to end the Castro regime was with an exploding cigar. Among practical jokers the exploding cigar was apparently a firm favourite, and at one stage, someone at the C.I.A. experienced a moment of Newtonian epiphany: here was the perfect tool with which to halt the spread of socialism in the Caribbean. Instead, inadvertently it led to the creation of the greatest of all cigar marques.


    February 2020


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