By Anthony Boadle | Reuters
Publisher note: The real title of this story is “Castro snubs cigar aficionados at Habanos Festiva” but this author mentions in passing that Uma Thurman was in town. Does he have proof? Is she violating travel restrictions?
Cuban President Fidel Castro snubbed hundreds of cigar aficionados by skipping a gala dinner closing the annual Habanos festival on Friday night, and British actor Jeremy Irons took his place as the star attraction.
“As I get older, and I see the years ahead of me getting shorter, I try to live a better quality of life. I think in the years to come I will smoke less cigarettes and more cigars,” Irons told the diners as waiters handed out trays of Partagas Coronas.
It was the third year in a row that Castro, 78 and recovering from a broken knee, has been a no-show at the dinner for worldwide cigar lovers and retailers of Habanos cigars, an incongruous meeting of the well-heeled and Communist Cuba.
“I think it is a huge disappointment for everybody,” said Hong Kong businessman David Tang, the main distributor of Cuban cigars in Asia.
Tang said Castro had a “magnetic” presence at previous dinners, where the Cuban leader would go on stage to sign humidors filled with cigars that were then auctioned to wealthy buyers for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Cigar aficionados paying $1,400 to attend the five-day Habanos festival felt let down, because they had been told Castro would attend the dinner, dedicated to the 160th anniversary of the legendary Cuban cigar brand Partagas.
“I’m disappointed. This is small change,” Jimmy Ng, manager of the Cigar Divan in Singapore, said of the five-day event. Ng said he had brought thousands of dollars to buy rare cigars for rich clients, but there were no mature cigars on sale, just recently rolled ones.
“The festival needs a new attraction instead of Fidel,” said a Spanish investment broker.
Britain’s Duke of Marlborough and the Duchess of Westminster, visiting Cuba for the cigar festival, left the island before the gala dinner. Actress Uma Thurman, who was on holiday in Havana, did not attend the event.
Nor did actor Vinicio del Toro and Steven Soderbergh, the director of the 1989 film “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” who were in town planning a film on Argentine-Cuban guerrilla fighter Che Guevara.
A mulatto dancer opened the show. Cuba’s best jazz pianist, Chucho Valdes, played a set, and Spain’s top flamenco dancer, Joaquin Cortes, won a standing ovation for his performance.
Four of Castro’s five sons attended the dinner, and Ricardo Alarcon, third man in Cuba’s political hierarchy after Castro and his younger brother, Raul, stood in for the “comandante.”
But Irons, whose films include The “French Lieutenant’s Woman,” “The Mission” and “Lolita,” stole the show with a plug for cigars.
“Smoking a cigarette is like having sex, and smoking a cigar is like making love,” the actor said.
Humidors signed by Castro and filled with Cuban cigars were auctioned for 530,000 euros ($700,000), with proceeds going to Cuba’s health care system. Some $6 million had been raised in the previous six cigar festivals, a spokesman for Cuba’s cigar industry said.
Castro, once a cigar-chomping revolutionary, gave up cigars in 1986 and now says tobacco is poison and boxes of cigars are best given to one’s enemies.