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Black Market Cigars: Key to Survival for Cuban Businessmen?

If you think the economy is tough in Europe and the United States, consider Cuba, where the average monthly salary is a piddling $20. True, $20 goes further in Cuba than it does in a lot of other countries, but it’s still a meager sum and not remotely enough to survive on.

With so little income from legitimate business, many businessmen are forced to turn to the black market just to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families. The worst part is that there is no solution in sight to the extreme impoverishment which fuels this underground economy.

One of Cuba’s largest legal exports is of course premium Cuban cigars. Even though the US still maintains an embargo against Cuban cigar imports, the country sells tens of millions of cigars to customers in Europe, mainly in France and Spain. Mirroring this legitimate business is the underground black market for Cuban cigars. Black market cigars are usually sold to tourists. They come packaged with everything which is needed to make them look legitimate, but are offered at highway robbery prices. A package of 25 premium black market Cuban cigars might go for as little as $8, which might buy you one or two premium cigars through legitimate channels.

Where do the black market cigars come from? Most are smuggled out of distributors’ warehouses, but some are also created at home using the scraps left over from the premium cigar supply piles. Selling black market cigars helps not only tourists but locals to conserve their incomes, and also supplements the income of sellers who otherwise could not afford to even survive.

Sellers of black market Cuban cigars report that there is no shortage of law enforcement, and business is tough as a result. Nonetheless, these measures against crime aren’t really helping Cubans to survive. The salaries which Cuban workers are paid to conduct legitimate business aren’t high enough to survive on, much less feed back into the economy in the form of consumerism. Until a more permanent solution is found to the extreme poverty which affects the vast majority of Cuban citizens, the black market will continue to grow.

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Hedonist. Wine & cigars aficionado.
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/toddt/ Todd Thompson

    The embargo on Cuban cigars should have been stopped long ago. It undermines legitimate business and puts billions of dollars in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, by shifting the economic interests from legitimate cigar producers to black market distributors, the policy is not likely to change.

    This is an interesting article on a subject that usually gets attention only from cigar smokers. If it were marijuana, it would get the attention of political ne’er-do-wells, who continue to smoke floor-sweep cigars from Central America under the pretense of being Cubans.