Cuba a Chicago
A Fascinating Interview with Cesar Blanco of Blanco Cigars
When we first walked up to the booth, David Blanco (Cesar Blanco’s son & partner in the company) greeted us warmly, arms around and patting our backs. He then introduced his father to us. I speak Spanish, so I shook his hand and responded “Mucho gusto Senor”. He then answered me in Spanish with surprise (I am very obviously “gringa”) in his voice, “Como usted habla espanol?” (How do you know Spanish?). I explained that my ex-husband was Peruvian, and I didn’t even realize that he didn’t understand English that well until we were married for 2 years, but that is a whole other story, since he was now my ex. Mr. Blanco said to me that in law enforcement they call that “a clue”. We all laughed, and with the ice broken asked Mr. Blanco if he had some time to tell us about his brand, Blanco Cigars. He not only told us about the company, but also about his family and his personal account of the Cuban Revolution. To say it was fascinating is an understatement.
Mr. Blanco started out by telling us that his family originated from Northern Spain in the area of the city of Gijon, Asturias region. His family immigrated to Cuba through the Canary Islands around 1875. Mr. Blanco’s great grandfather settled in the Avolejo region and began growing tobacco for export to Europe. He was also involved in the lumber business. Eventually the family joined with the Plasencia family through marriage.
We were then treated to his firsthand knowledge of the sailing of the Granma from Mexico to Cuba, landing on Playa Las Coloradas. He told us that his family was also in exile in Mexico at the time, and would return to Cuba in January 1959. He said his father would broadcast Radio Rebelde from the Sierra Maestra from the back of a station wagon. Since he was young and nimble, he would climb up the trees, setting out the wires for transmission. They would quickly do the broadcast, and then take everything down so that they could move before the police caught up with them. Just after Castro took control of Cuba, on January 1, 1959,
Mr. Blanco’s father was named Director of Public Order, essentially in charge of the police at that time. He then told us how, at that time, you had two political choices: you could be either a capitalist or a communist. He said that Fidel Castro didn’t so much choose communism, as much as he didn’t choose capitalism. Castro had seen what capitalists had done during the Batista regime, and as such didn’t want to get in bed with the same people who had corrupted the country that he had just fought to free.
Over time, Fidel Castro’s policies became more and more dictator-like. Elections were pushed out for 2 years. Castro controlled all information that his citizens would hear or read. Castro controlled the cinema as well. Nothing could be said to disagree with government policies. Mr. Blanco, who was in university by this time, said that his father started to disagree with Castro’s policies openly, so the man who was in charge of the police then needed to be two steps ahead of them as he came to collect Sr. Blanco from the university and flee the country – just 1 hour ahead of the police who were searching them out. They landed in Miami in 1961, when Mr. Blanco was still a teenager.
The policy of the United States government at this time was to try to move the Cuban refugees away from Miami, and have them settle in other parts of the country. To facilitate this, the government would not allow aide to be paid to refugees who choose to stay in Florida. If a refugee would move to another city outside Florida, then they would be paid a six month subsidy to help them settle. This policy is how the Blanco family wound up in Chicago, through the Methodist church (his family are Methodists), settling in Riverdale, IL.
The cigar business continued through the family’s Cuban roots, in Ybor City, just outside the Tampa area of Florida. They purchased tobacco from the Oliva family and created the Blanco cigar line. In 1998, David Blanco reached out to his Plasencia relatives in Honduras/Nicaragua area to secure tobacco directly. He wanted to create a world class cigar at a great price. He was looking for ways to cut margins on the things that added to the cost of the cigar. They set up their world class factory, which is one of the most beautiful factories in all of Central America, known affectionately as “the Cathedral” due to its’ large stain glass windows and exposed wood beams. The factory has a courtyard, with freshly clipped grass, surrounded by rose bushes with a fountain in the middle. The Plasencias and Blancos families are proud to offer the best value for a quality cigar, bar none. Mr. Blanco told us how they even searched out a Chinese company to produce their boxes for them to further cut costs, but without sacrificing the quality of their product. All this leads to their ability to produce superior quality cigars for a less than $10 a stick. Read the review of the Blanco 9, and other cigars like “Los Primos”, Premiere Selection and Liga Exclusiva here on Stogie Press, and then try one for yourself.
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