Cuba continues to promote cigar exports for economic recovery as the country braves the headwinds from the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. trade embargo.
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Situated on the outskirts of the Cuban capital city of Havana, the El Laguito cigar factory is well known for producing Cohiba cigars over the past five decades.The factory, one of the five making cigars for exports in Havana, has some 250 workers, with 70 percent being women.
Among them is Nelsa Leonard, a 75-year-old roller, who started working at El Laguito in 1968. She expects Cuban cigar production to help the Caribbean nation's economy recover amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"These are the best cigars in the world and Cohiba is our top brand," she said. "We are doing our best to sell as many Cuban cigars as possible to the world."
Official data showed that in 2021, the Caribbean nation reported record sales of its hand-rolled cigars worth over US$507 million, as the tobacco industry is one of the four core sectors that contribute most to Cuba's GDP.
Oscar Rodriguez, director of El Laguito cigar factory, said that they are now making some 9,000 Cuban cigars a day.
"We continued to work despite the COVID-19 pandemic as this is a critical sector for the performance of the economy," he said. "This factory is projected to deliver 2 million Cuban cigars by the end of the year."
The upcoming Cuban tobacco harvest is scheduled to start in October this year, said the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture. It comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the intensification of the U.S. trade embargo on the Caribbean nation.
Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez said that in the first 14 months of U.S. President Joe Biden's administration, the blockade has caused Cuba economic losses of around US$6.3 billion. First imposed in 1962, the embargo was tightened by Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, who imposed more than 240 sanctions against the island.
The island's economy started to see a slight recovery during the first half of the year. However, "the U.S. blockade, which remains almost invariable, continues to be the main obstacle to the development of Cuba," said Cuban economist Jose Luis Rodriguez.