What’s new with Cuba?

Another frequent question we get both here at PAYNE-MASON HQ and when we’re out at events is, “so what’s up with Cuba?” or, “can you guys sell Cuban cigars now?”.

A couple of quick points about the second question before I answer the first…

One, Cuba imports much of its tobacco now from the same places everyone else does. It’s EXTREMELY rare to find a “genuine” Cuban cigar with all Cuban leaf.

Two, all PAYNE-MASON cigars are hand crafted by our own team of genuine Cuban Master Rollers here in the US. We don’t import cigars from anyone, or anywhere, else.

Now, back to the first question; Many changes to US/Cuba relations have happened since this President took office, so it’s understandably a little confusing. There are several great articles out there that detail everything that’s happened, like this one: http://on.cfr.org/15SYAid.

What I’d like to quickly do is summarize the changes that would or could affect those of us in the cigar industry.

  1. Travel options have been expanded – Previously travel to the Island was extremely restricted. Even family members could only visit once every 3 years. Now however, authorized travelers can now visit as much as they want, and the authorized reasons for visiting have also been expanded. Travel is now allowed for business development reasons, giving US companies the chance to help small Cuban businesses grow and survive in the larger markets.
  2. Remittances have been increased – Families, friends, and philanthropists can now send up to $2000 per quarter, up from $500, including money for business development. Sending money to the Communists or certain government officials is still off limits!
  3. Exports from the US have increased in certain areas – Agricultural equipment, building materials, and certain classes of business equipment can now be sent to the Island.
  4. Credit Cards and Banking – another big change is the authorization of visitors and professionals to the Island to use credit cards for transactions, and for US based banks to process money transactions.
  5. Internet and Communications – US based Internet and Telecom providers are now being allowed to directly contribute to Cuban infrastructure (building cell and internet networks). Also, certain computer, network, and telephone devices and products can now be offered to the Cuban people.

And the big one…

  1. Travel purchases by US Visitors has increased to $400 –“of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.” So now you can bring back up to $100 worth of cigars and/or rum. The total amount of both tobacco and alcohol cannot exceed $100.

There are more big changes afoot for sure. Beyond these changes, however, the future is still cloudy. The full 50 year old embargo is still in place, and likely will remain that way for some time. Only Congress can authorize its removal.

It is obvious, though, that DC’s view of relations with Cuba is thawing. Already there are plans for an Embassy to be re-established.

There is no doubt that Cuba has contributed a great deal to the history, legacy, (and even some myths) of fine cigars. How new relations with the Island will affect the US cigar market remains to be seen for the long term.

What I can tell you for sure is that US based cigar companies are already working on what happens next, including one very near and dear to my heart… Stay tuned!

Oh, and for more specifics, here’s the official White House Fact Sheet: http://1.usa.gov/1MnS5ah

Photo courtesy of Ralph Lauren Magazine.