Reinventing Mecca: Tobacco in the Dominican Republic, 1763-2007

Author: Jean Stubbs

Working Paper Number: 3

PDF file: PDF icon WP03.pdf

The objective of this paper is to explore the connection between Dominican and Cuban tobacco history. The title, ‘Reinventing mecca’, refers to the period after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, when US and émigré Cuban tobacco interests combined to project the Dominican Republic as the home of quality tobacco, including famous Havana cigar brands. The US quest for alternative leaf tobacco sources after the 1960 US embargo on trade with Cuba, coupled with the exodus of Cuban tobacco families produced a dramatic post-1959 shift in Dominican tobacco history. This was augmented with Cuba’s post-1989 crisis, as the East European socialist bloc disintegrated and Cuba’s tobacco plummeted in both quantity and quality. In exploring the full significance of the post-1959 Dominican shift, the paper first provides an overview of Havana cigar history by way of contextualising Dominican tobacco history. Turning to the Dominican Republic, the initial focus is on the ‘long tobacco century’ (1763-1930), in tandem with developments in Cuba. By the mid-nineteenth century, Cuba had become the international standard for premium cigars and cigar tobacco, but saw this severely undercut during the 1868-98 independence struggles and subsequent US occupation and investment. The 1930-61 dominance of Trujillo and La Tabalacera follows almost as an interlude prior to two key periods: 1962-92, during which the seeds were (literally) sown for Cuban-type Dominican leaf to replace embargoed Cuban leaf on the US market, overtaking Cuban production and export levels in leaf in the late 1970s and cigars by the late 1980s; and 1992-2007, when Cuban-Dominican cigars dominated on the US market, also competing aggressively with Cuban cigars on the global market. The whole post-1961 period is then reexamined in the context of the Cuban influx and the Dominican exodus. The paper concludes by revisiting Dominican tobacco history as interpreted by scholars, especially the longue durée approach to ‘Dominican exceptionalism’ and the peasantry, stemming from the late nineteenth-century vision of Dominican patriot Pedro
Francisco Bonó.