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Cuarenta Bucaneros team are on a roll with sale of real Cuban cigars


BUSINESS PEOPLE by JONATHAN KENT                                                 January 23, 2004


WHEN Ian Gordon and David Thompson were thinking of a name for the business they founded to import cigars from Cuba, they wanted it to reflect their desire for the enterprise to be primarily good fun.
Cuarenta Bucaneros was what they came up with, which provoked a few raised eyebrows at the Registry General when they registered the name.
"Cuarenta Bucaneros means 40 pirates in Spanish," Mr. Gordon, who is president of the business. "It's the closest we dared to get to 40 thieves!"
Mr. Gordon is an architect and Mr. Thompson, a director and part owner, is a fund manager, so for them the cigar

Cigar aficionados: Cuarenta Bucaneros president Ian Gordon (right) and part-owner David Thompson show off some of their Cuban cigars

business is something of a pleasant diversion – particularly so for Mr. Gordon, a cigar aficionado.
The idea for the business came about after both men who were involved with checking out possible resort development sites in Cuba for a client in Amsterdam.
"We went to Cuba for two weeks and visited 12 sites," Mr. Gordon said. "I have always been a cigar smoker and I knew a number of retailers in Bermuda were having difficulty getting a consistent supply of Cuban cigars.
"Many of them were buying in from Spain and England. We visited the cigar factory and through people we met in the resorts project, who introduced us to other people, we got started. Now we are authorised by the Cuban Government to import and sell cigars.
"To me, I do this because it's fun. I think if you're in business it's because you enjoy it."
Cuarenta Bucaneros is a wholesaler, providing cigars they ship from Cuba to retailers, hotels, restaurants and individual clients. They also have a web site (www.cigarbox.bm), which has attracted overseas clients from as far afield as the Philippines, Dubai and Russia.
They advertise brands from such well-known factories as Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, San Cristobel and Trinidad.
The quality is high and the price reflects that. One of the most expensive cigars is a Montecristo A, nine-and-a-quarter inches long. Cuarenta Bucaneros sells a box of 25 of them for $650.
Stored at the company's Church Street premises in humidors, which keep humidity at optimum levels for cigar storage, are dozens of boxes of numerous different brands.
Mr. Gordon and Mr. Thompson were checked out thoroughly by the Cuban Government before they won official approval to be their sole agent in Bermuda. The process took about a year. And the Cubans continue to monitor the way their cigars are promoted.
"Making, smoking and selling cigars is an art form," Mr. Gordon said. "That is why we offer training to some of the hotels and restaurants we sell to.
"The aim is that when waiters offer cigars, they can a specific cigar that goes well with a certain liqueur or after-dinner drink. Some foods also go better with certain cigars than with others." The basic guideline is that the darker the colour – ranging from claro claro (faintly green) to oscuro (blackish brown) – the stronger the taste.
The longer the length, the cooler is the smoke, and the larger the ring size, the fatter the cigar.
Both men make regular business trips to the Communist island and see the way their products are made, by hand, in factories most unlike factories elsewhere in the Western world.
MOST of the factories are in and around the capital city, Havana, but the tobacco is grown in the western area of Pi๑ar del Rio. The factories keep meticulous records, without computers, which allow the Cubans to trace back the origins of each box of cigars, from which farm the tobacco was grown and when it was delivered, for example.
Mr. Gordon said: "Inside the factories, you have an almost Dickensian scene. There are rows and rows of people at their desks. Someone comes around and says today they are making Montecristo No. 2s, for example.
"They can make 200 to 250 cigars per day and are paid around $20 a month. The factory has its own doctors, dentists and all kinds of social services. The workers often have someone reading to them while they work. It's intended to be a nurturing environment."
Mr. Gordon admitted he had been affected by the fact that his business was made possible by people who earned so little.
"Of course, I think about that," he said. "But my conscience is clear. I see this as a win-win situation. The cigar industry generates a lot of foreign currency which helps Cuba and helps the Cuban people.
"Of course, by Bermuda standards their wages are very low, but when you think about it, their education is free, their medical services are free and their rent is fixed at ten per cent of their monthly salary.
"So to compare with a Bermuda salary, you have to take out the cost of housing, health insurance and education. Obviously, we have the ability to choose how to spend our money and that is the difference.
"There are also things that are in short supply. Even though their medical services are some of the best anywhere, they are sometimes short of certain kinds of medicines.
"So whenever we go to Cuba, we take in medicines and other things for people there."
There are an estimated 200 steps involved in the making of hand-made cigars, to planting and nurturing of the tobacco seedling to rolling, grading and packaging.
As with many products with a name for quality, counterfeiting is a major problem.
Mr. Thompson said: "The counterfeit cigar industry is huge. There are a lot of cigars being sold over the web that are supposed to be from Cuba, but are not.
"The fact is that the Cuban authorities only allow people to take 23 cigars out of the country with them – there are 25 in a box. And you have to show a proper certified invoice for what you take.
"Any cigars you try to take out without the proper paperwork will be confiscated."
Mr. Gordon added: "Several clients have told me they had smoked Cuban cigars before, but they had never been this good. I think it's likely they had smoked counterfeit cigars in the past."
CUBA has generated a lot of money from tourism in recent years, as visitor numbers have increased tenfold over the past ten years to two million per annum at present. The Government plans to see that figure increase to ten million eventually – something that could happen quickly if restrictions placed by the US Government on Americans travelling to Cuba were lifted.
"There are still many business opportunities in Cuba," Mr. Gordon said. "But the Cubans are very thorough in checking out anyone who they do business with.
"They are very progressive and I've been impressed by their excellent understanding of how Western economies work."

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Cuarenta Bucaneros Limited
Hamilton, Bermuda