Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

Sept. 24, 1999.

CUBAN CIGARS TO BE AUTHENTICATED BY SEAL By Tania Quintero, Cuba Free Press Project.

HAVANA - Cuban cigars will leave state factories wearing an authenticating seal starting Oct. 1. The seal has been developed to combat the problem of bootleg cigars circulating in the Cuban black market. World-renowned brands, such as Cohiba, Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta have been sold on the streets at cut-rate prices for some time.

The buyers, usually tourists, have found these cigars to be either part of the state production, illegally diverted for private sale, or a sub-standard product labeled with a valuable brand name. The traffickers in both cases are Cubans trying to obtain access to much-needed hard currency.

The government is trying to protect the market and brand integrity of Cuban cigars, which in 1998 became the island's third most important export behind sugar and nickel.

In the future, if the buyers attempt to take the cigars out of Cuba customs inspectors will be able to confirm a seal's authenticity by viewing it with a special lamp. A special series of completely hand-made cigars will hit the market on Nov. 16, commemorating the 480th anniversary of the founding of Havana and the convening of the IX Iberoamerican Summit. The cigars have been named San Cristóbal de La Habana (which also is the complete name of the city) and will wear the seal.

Tania Quintero, Cuba Free Press Project.

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