Cuba overthrown as cigar capital of the world by this country: Here’s how

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Cuba, once known for some of the finest cigars across the world, may have been overtaken by its near neighbour, the Dominican Republic. This was after the world’s largest cigar producer, the Dominican Republic, during the COVID-19 pandemic crossed the $1 billion mark in revenues. 

Earlier this year, Habanos SA – the Havana-based business that oversees all Cuban cigar sales – saw a two per cent rise in revenue when compared to the previous recording-breaking sale in 2021.

In 2022, Cuban cigar maker Habanos reported sales of $545 million following the COVID-19 pandemic and the havoc caused by a major hurricane.

However, in 2021, it posted a 15 per cent rise in revenue with $507 million. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic, which was expected to surpass the $1 billion mark nearly three years ago, has since reportedly crossed that threshold. 

Even today, a report by the British weekly magazine, The Spectator, says that the exports are still growing, making cigars the country’s fifth-largest export after gold, electrical products, textiles and medical equipment. 

What is driving this rise?

While Cuba’s hand-rolled cigars, which include brands such as Cohiba, Montecristo and Partagas, are considered by many the best in the world, the Dominican Republic’s success has mostly been driven by a significant increase in the production of machine-made cigars.

According to the British media report, the Dominican Republic is now home to more than 50 factories in the country employing more than 120,000 people. However, the Caribbean nation also leads the ‘luxury’, hand-made cigars which once helped Cuba’s Santiago achieve the title of ‘cigar capital of the world’. 

‘Cigar boom’ of 1990s 

It is also worth noting that the Dominican Republic’s billion-dollar success did not take place overnight as the country has been slowly inching towards the title since the so-called ‘cigar boom’ of the early 1990s. 

During this time, a series of events took place which drove the Caribbean nation to its world’s largest cigar producer title. An 18-year-old named Eduardo León Jimenes started the country’s oldest factory, La Aurora, which has recently become the biggest commercial organisation, in the Dominican Republic. La Aurora prides itself on its ‘perfecto’ cigars and only 100 are made per day. 

While the factory has played a significant role, the Dominican Republic’s cigar-producing boom would have been less likely if it weren’t for the revolution in Cuba. 

Notably, Cuba at the time was the world’s leading cigar exporter which led to the industry’s nationalisation. This reportedly prompted many top growers in the country to shift their operations to a less restrictive Dominican Republic. 

Not to mention an American ban on all Cuban imports. Even today Cuban cigars still can’t be legally sold in the United States which is the world’s biggest market for cigar sales. In global comparison, most revenue in cigars is generated in the US, amounting to a whopping $22 billion, as of 2023, according to Statista. 

The Dominican Republic’s lead over Cuba has also been driven by the decades of global shortage in cigars while Havana has suffered a combination of natural disasters and the loss of veteran rollers, who have either died or retired, according to the British media report. 

(With inputs from agencies) 


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