Right at the entrance to the town of Pinar del Rio, students of agricultural science offer their services as guides. Even they are struggling to find Pancho Cuba’s Finca in this labyrinth of paths and roads. By chance, Señora Cuba and her grandson come along and she takes us to a beautiful staircase, which leads up to a neat, little house overgrown with flowers. Behind it there is the real farm. Chickens are running around excitedly, geese are honking. Pancho Cuba welcomes us in a friendly, but not exuberant way.
A short, slim man in his best years with a weatherbeaten and sunburnt face. On his head his trademark: a sunhat made of cloth whose sides are held up by means of a strap on the left and right. He wears simple working clothes and boots. He is about to bring icewater to his workers in the field. We accompany him a few footsteps behind the house. There, in the blazing sun, a group of workers is using rakes to break up the grey, sandy soil between the still small tobacco plants. Feeders are being drawn; weeds are being removed. The workers are enjoying the welcome cooling down.
It takes Pancho Cuba no more than three hectares to cultivate 100,000 plants. Since each plant has between 17 and 18 leaves – he gets a staggering 1.8 million leaves, most of them are premium wrappers leaves for the finest Habanos. According to his certificate of baptism Pancho Cuba’s name should actually be Francisco Emilian, but in a patriotic upsurge his grandfather had already taken on the name Cuba. That was in 1896. The province Pinar del Rio was fighting for its freedom two years before Cuba’s official independence from Spain. Pancho Cuba’s life is closely linked to tobacco. Even his birthday on September 20 coincides with the day on which the small saplings have to be planted out into the open field.
He operates an ecological farm with about 15 people. The wages are low by our standards. Payday is always on Saturday. Pancho Cuba is a just farmer who also sets himself high standards. The quality of his wrappers is his pride and joy. “I am proud of being a veguero!” – but he is also proud of his well-kept truck from 1953. In crop rotation soy beans or beans are grown. The farm has three cows and four oxen – for ploughing. The veguero is on duty all year round – from the field to the drying barn; the time from October to March is particularly intensive. However, they know how to celebrate; for example, at Christmas, there is a roast goose on the table. For Pancho Cuba Alejandro Robaina is a fatherly friend. Once he was allowed to travel to Germany.
Altadis awarded him a prize for his lifetime achievement. However, he prefers to be in his fields. When I take out my small, well-thumbed book “Instructivo técnico para el Cultivo del Tabaco”, he smiles for the first time. With his experience of several decades he will not need it any longer … From Los Jazmines we take one last look over the valley of Vinjales. A Cohiba Esplendido ends this beautiful day. Its perfect wrapper might come from a tireless, persistent tobacco planter – from Pancho Cuba.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Autumn Edition 2008. Read more