(This is part of the Jersey City in Havana Series, multimedia stories produced by St. Peter’s students who spent Spring Break in Cuba.)
By Mary Mercado, Class of 2019
One of my most memorable experiences on our trip to Cuba was the excursion to Viñales where we visited a family-owned tobacco farm. The tobacco industry is one of the most profitable for Cuba producing over 660,000 tons of tobacco yearly. Cigar exports bring in over 200 million dollars annually.
The tour of the farm in Viñales was over two hours away from Old Havana on a glorious warm and sunny day. When we arrived, the people were friendly and the soil beneath my feet was red. Viñales has perfect weather and geographical conditions to grow and harvest tobacco. The mountains and rich soil of Viñales have made the tobacco farms a long-standing family tradition.
The owner of the farm gave us a clear perspective on large role the government plays in the tobacco industry in Cuba. He explains how farmers can acquire land, the government will give you land and in return they must give them 99% of the tobacco grown in season while paying them a very small amount for their hard work.
The small amount of tobacco which is left can be rolled into cigars for farmers to sell however, they cannot use branding of the cigars or they will have to pay a hefty tax to the government. In Vinales the soil is pure and is free of pesticides and chemicals which allows tobacco farmers to grow additional crops on the land such as tomatoes and other crops which can feed their family.
Watch video for more on Viñales’ tobacco industry: