Cuba was in mourning yesterday for the godfather of its most celebrated national product – a thing so good that the United States has felt compelled to ban it from its shops for half a century – the Cuban cigar.
In grave tones normally reserved for the passing of a political leader, state radio in Havana confirmed that Alejandro Robaina, a tobacco grower of such stature that he had one of the country's leading brand's named after him, had passed away at the age of 91. He had been suffering from cancer.
Over a career that lasted not only the full span of the Fidel Castro revolution but reached back even to the days of Fulgencio Batista, the toppled dictator, and beyond, Mr Robaina oversaw the cultivation of some of Cuba's most prized tobacco leaves on a farm that is now in the hands of one of his grandsons.
Radio announcers said only that Mr Robaina had been a "victim of a sombre illness". His death was confirmed by a close family associate, Sergio Hernandez, who recalled the fame Mr Robaina had harvested all across the world for himself and for Cuba. "He once told me he was a millionaire because he had a million friends all over the world. He had a big heart and he treated everyone the same," he said.
The Robaina cigars are marketed worldwide – with the obvious exception of one very large country to the north – through a joint venture between Habanos, controlled by the communist government, and London-based Imperial Tobacco Group.
Robaina was said to have worked in tobacco from the age of 10. Under the rule of the Castros he became an international ambassador for the Cuban cigar.