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Cigars In Brazil: An Uncertain Future?

Aug 31, 2008
Those who know their cigars well also, by that same token, know Brazil - albeit as a source of great tobacco rather than as a top cigar-producing nation. Brazilian tobacco, mainly produced in the country's temperate northeastern and southern regions, turns up in such world-class cigars as Carlos Torano's Toro, but the country's cigar producers themselves haven't always gotten the same respect. But that may be about to change. After all, Brazilian cigars - including the Angelina, Dannemann and Dannemann, Le Cigar, Don Pepe, Dom Porfirio, and Dona Flor (named for Jorge Amado's classic novel Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands) - have already convinced many US cigar aficionados that this country's cigars are as good as its tobacco.

But Brazil's own rich history - and its sure-to-be-turbulent future - make it an important place for cigar smokers to understand. How has one of the world's important tobacco-producing nations come to be the home of one of the strongest anti-smoking movements in the Western Hemisphere? And will these two opposing tendencies continue, uneasily, to coexist? Only a prophet could say - but perhaps a brief backgrounder on this Latin American nation can provide some helpful context.

The first thing to know about Brazil is that it's big - in resources, landmass, and people. It's the fifth-largest country in the world, and the fifth most populous. Among the world's pro forma democracies, it ranks fourth in population size, and it controls a powerful economy, ranking ninth in the world in purchasing power. It's a diverse country, too, with one hundred-eighty-eight living languages, and, interestingly enough, the world's largest confirmed reserve of uncontacted peoples' small pre-industrial tribes that, for all practical purposes, have stayed sealed off from the rest of the world. In this single nation, then, an ultramodern economy exists side-by-side with some of the world's last refuges of pre-industrial life, and gleaming cities (Sao Paulo and Brasilia) share the same boundary with huge swaths of rainforest.

What kind of culture does such a diverse country produce? Well - a similar situation produced artistic riches for the United States, and things are hardly any different for Brazil. Consider tropicalismo, one of the country's major artistic exports. This musical movement, spearheaded by the legendary band Os Mutantes and the singer-songwriters Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, and manic genius Tom Ze among others, fuses all the diverse musics of this country (along with a hefty dose of Bob Dylan, Velvet Underground and jazz) to create some of the best-regarded music of the 1970s. Whatever political and logistical headaches it may pose, such bursting-at-the-seams diversity is good fortune for any artist lucky enough to benefit from it.

Like many Latin American countries (and like the US), Brazil was originally the colony of an ambitious European nation - in this case, Portugal. Led by its Portuguese-born regent, Pedro I, the country won its independence in 1822. What followed was a long power struggle between Pedro (eventually replaced by his son Pedro II), various rebelling factions of the population, and the country's economically dominant classes, who found Pedro variously useful and irksome, depending on the situation. Following the deposition of Pedro II in 1889, the country became a republic; during the twentieth century, though, Brazil fell frequently to military coups, some of them (most infamously in 1964) made possible by covert US assistance. Its current relative freedom has lasted only since 1985.

Made up of twenty-six states and a federal district (think Washington, D.C.), the country's exports include (among others) coffee, iron ore, ethanol, textiles, shoes, and cars. With a major modernizing initiative underway - in 2007, the country's government, under President Luis Ignacio DaSilva, dedicated three hundred billion dollars to renovating power plants, roads and ports - Brazil clearly intends to keep those exports booming. Including tobacco? Well - that's dicier. Brazil is incredibly rich in natural resources, but that rainforest shrinks every day. The resulting controversy raises issues for tobacco farmers: only a sustainable ecology will ensure that Brazil continues to yield those fine tobacco crops, and yet some sustainability measures may threaten farmers' short-term profits (small farmers, many of them, and small profits). It's a difficult balance.

More threatening, perhaps, for those of us who value Brazil's contribution to cigar culture, is the strength of its anti-smoking movement. The country has some of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world, funnels large amounts of money into anti-tobacco campaigns, and forbids tobacco-products advertising in any form. Still, the total number of smokers grew slightly during the past decade. Some business experts forecast that the country's tobacco industry will have to get used to a shrinking overall population of smokers, and concentrate instead on increasing brand value, making better and safer products. Cigars, designed to be used in moderation and savored, may well flourish in this environment. At any rate, the reported use of genetically-modified tobacco crops in the country's southern region suggests that tobacco-related controversies will continue in Brazil.
About the Author
CigarFox provides you the opportunity to build your own sampler of the finest cigars that include cigar brands like Montecristo, Romeo & Julieta, H Upmann, Macanudo, Cohiba, Partagas, Gurkha and many more. Choose from more than 1200 different cigars! Other cigar products include cigar humidors, cigar boxes, and cigar accessories like Zippo Lighters.
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