Cuba in a Global Context: International Relations, Internationalism, and Transnationalism

By Catherine Krull | Go to book overview

13
Transnationalism and the Havana Cigar
Commodity Chains, Networks, and Knowledge Circulation

JEAN STUBBS

After the 1959 Cuban revolution, when the United States declared its trade embargo on Cuba, the race was on to produce a quality “Havana cigar” and leaf elsewhere in the Caribbean. This was a new twist to a long history. By the mid-nineteenth century the handmade “Havana” had become world famous as the luxury cigar, and while by the mid-twentieth century, in Cuba and the world over, cigarettes far out-shadowed cigars in terms of production and sales, the Havana still held its own niche luxury market. It also lay at the heart of transnational processes linked to commodity chains, networks, and knowledge circulation. Seed, agricultural and industrial know-how, and human capital were all transplanted for its replication, a process accentuated by major migratory waves linked to such landmark political upheavals as Cuba’s late nineteenth-century struggles for independence from Spain, early twentieth-century U.S. occupation, and the mid-century revolution. This led to often-disputed identical brands, produced in Cuba and abroad, by island and émigré Cubans; distributed through parallel chains, networks, and circuits; and promoted through high-profile cigar conferences and events, both in Cuba and abroad. In turn, this phenomenon created a complex multi-tiered licit and illicit system that aimed to capitalize on the prestige of the “authentic” product. A similar phenomenon is to be observed in brand disputes and international court cases regarding other products of Cuba, most notably rum—Bacardi and Havana Club being a case in point. The Havana cigar, however, has been elevated to almost iconic status, which makes it of particular interest as a prism to explore broader issues. Here I have chosen three Caribbean island territories—Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic—to illustrate this. Each played a major part in Havana cigar history, and the fortunes of all three have waxed and waned in tandem with not only Cuba but also their own transnational commodity and migration histories.

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