|For any lover of cigars, Fidel Castro's
autograph is a prized possession, especially if it's on a box of fine
Over the last four years, cigar boxes
signed by Fidel and auctioned at cigar events have raised around a million
dollars for the Medical Aid for Cuba Appeal. The first box he autographed was
auctioned at the Cohiba Siglo launch dinner in London, in November 1993.
Containing 50 Cohiba Lanceros, it raised £12,000, a modest sum when
compared to the cash paid at the Cohiba 30th birthday celebrations on the 28 th
February in Havana, which were attended by Fidel himself...
Like the Hollywood star who tops everyone by turning up last
to the party. Fidel arrived two hours after everyone else, sandwiched between
phalanxes of hodyguards. Since this occasion was the 30th birthday celebration
for Cohiba, it was apt that he was accompanied by them, because the story
behind the birth of Cohiba began with a bodyguard. In the mid 1960s, one of
Fidel's bodyguards smoked cigars made by a friend. Curious, Fidel tried one,
found it quite excellent, and so Cohiba was born. At first, theContinued from
front page brand was only produced for the President and his government, but
from 1982 onwards the rest of us were allowed to enjoy them, too.
Over 700 guests attended the party at Havana's open air
Tropicana nightclub, citizens of over 40 countries, more than 50 of them
British, and over 100 of them American. By the time the guests had reached
their puddings, most were convinced that Fidel would not show, but it was at
this moment he arrived. The atmosphere that greeted his arrival was quite
astonishing. One journalist said it was like Elvis returning from the dead, but
in Cuba the presence of the grand old leader has more raw power than that of
any mere rock star. Castro seems an eternal figure to Cubans, whether they love
or loathe him. After decades in government and countless assassination
attempts, Castro remains indomitable, and now possesses the stock only an
immortal leader has. Before Castro took to the stage, he is alleged to have
said to his bodyguards "I'm not going up there. They'll shoot me."
And shoot him they did hundreds of times, most noticeably the American guests,
with cameras not guns.
After the lightning of the camera flashes had calmed and
some of the guests had climbed down from their tables, Fidel began a 50- minute
speech, with crowd-pleasing gags about Clinton and exploding microphones. Then
he went on to explain that alas, he'd felt obliged to give up his beloved
cigars to set an example to his people and to earn a medal from the World
Health Organisation for his pains. These days, Fidel said wistfully, he never
touches a cigar - honest, comrades.
The evening's charity auction was an undisputed success: a
total of six lots were auctioned, all humidors, filled with Cohibas. The first
lot went for US$ 37,000, the second US$ 60,000, the third US$ 45,000. The
fourth was a very special lot indeed: to mark the 30th Anniversary of Cohiba,
45 humidors were created, each with its own individual number and filled with
Robustos Especiales, a unique size of Cohiba. The No.l humidor was given to
Fidel, but he announced during his speech that, since he didn't smoke any more,
he wished his humidor to be auctioned for the appeal. This very special lot was
signed by Fidel on the stage, and bought by Nick Freeman Chairman of an Havana
Importer for US$ 49,000. The fifth lot was another 30th Anniversary humidor,
which raised US$40,000, and the final lot was bought by Mohammed Zeidan, a
Lebanese cigar merchant. Zeidan successfully bid US$130,000 for a 90- Cohiba
cabinet with a gold lid, designed by Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamin, and
signed by the artist and Fidel. This beautifully crafted Humidor was sold on
behalf of La Capilla del Hombre (The Chapel of Humankind), in Equador. The
total raised for the Medical Aid for Cuba Appeal was US$ 231,000, enough to
save many lives.
Perhaps the most entertaining thing about the evening, apart
from Fidel's unique performance of course, was the Cohibas. Guests were able to
enjoy three sizes: Siglo I, Siglo IV and Robusto Especial - the unique size
made especially for the 30th birthday event. Fidel abstained, hut admitted
longingly to the guests that he still dreams of smoking a fine Habano.
"After all", he said "you often dream of things which are