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The Leaf

Even though it is impossible to say exactly when it was brought to Cuba, it is generally accepted that t he tobacco plant originally came from South America between 3000 and 2000 B.C. The Indigenous Cubans considered tobacco a miraculous medicine and an essential element in their religious, political and social ceremonies. The Europeans were first introduced to this plant when they first reached the Americas in 1492, the famous Christopher Columbus voyages. At this time the indigenous Cubans were smoking the tobacco in simple bunches, known as Cohiba Puros. It didn't take long for the Old Continent to develop a passion for the leaf. In Spain and later Persia, Japan, Turkey and Russia smoking the tobacco leaf became all the rage. On April 11, 1717, King Philip V of Spain established a royal monopoly on tobacco-growing in Cuba a decision which has gone down in history as the 'Estanco del Tabaco'. Tobacco-growers who opposed the law lost their lives. The monopoly remained in effect until June 23, 1817, when a royal decree did away with the monopoly, permitting free trade between Cuba and the rest of the world, as long as it was through Spanish ports. Slaves were not used in tobacco-growing as the work was considered too intricate. José Martí famously said, 'tobacco plants had to be handled as carefully as if they were fine ladies' . Instead, immigrants from the Canary Islands worked in the tobacco fields, laying the foundations for a very special breed: The Cuban farmer. By the 19th century, Cuba's tobacco production was already considered the finest in the world. By 1859, there were nearly 10,000 tobacco plantations and around 1300 cigar factories in the capital.

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