Over the past decade, the Cuban government has gone after countless American cigar makers and vendors. They are targeting innocent local tabacaleros and taking them to court, involving them in legal battles that only add fresh insult to old injuries.
Many of these individuals, including José “Pepe” Montagne, fled Cuba at gunpoint, only to find themselves dragged to American court by a country that’s still on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror.
Forty-one years ago, the Cuban government imprisoned Pepes father. Then in 2005, Pepe was called to court and ten years later, Pepe is still battling the communist country in court. He must deal constantly with questions from attorneys about tobacco varietals and trademark law when all he has been doing is trying to make an honest living in a new, stranger country. Instead he’s targeted by his former country’s dictatorship.
Cuban government battles exile tobacco makers in court
Pepe is not the only tobacco maker battling the Cuban government in court. There are $100 million wrongful death lawsuits, $50 billion hostile corporate takeovers, smuggled tobacco seeds, and suspicions that Cuba is already secretly circumventing the embargo with its cigars.
Cigars have always been a powerful symbol of Cubas culture and history. They are one of the country’s biggest exports, a rare growth industry in a socialist state.
Now that the embargo is sure to fall, many Americans were hoping to visit the island and smoke a real Cuban cigar — one grown and made on the island. Miami’s Cuban cigar makers fear exactly this.
Chased out of Cuba as Castro took over their tobacco fields, many recreated their companies in America. Some, like legendary cigar maestro José Padrón, have risen to the top of the trade after years of hard work and dedication. Because Cuban cigars were outlawed in the US, these exiles were able to prosper in South Florida, arguably the capital of America’s cigar industry.
But in anticipation of the merging of nations, the Cuban government has gone after its competitors in preparation for the day when its products can finally invade the mainland.
With President Barack Obama now pushing to restore ties between the embittered rivals, Cuban-American cigar makers have the most to lose.
Pepe could very possibly go out of business, buried under a wave of new lawsuits and cheap Cuban cigars.
“This is more than my business. It’s my passion, my life,” he said to the Miami New Times. “I’m fighting against an entire country! It’s like a housecat trying to fend off a hungry lion.”