Perdomo Cigars is a family-owned company created and led by Nick Perdomo. Its headquarters is in Miami with the entire cigar-making process – from seed to boxing – occuring at the Tabacalera Perdomo operation in Esteli, Nicaragua. Here’s a quick dive into some background on Nicaragua, our trip there in 2015 and why that country might ring a bell for those of us around in the 1980s.
Nicaragua is in Central America, south of Mexico. After many years of – and despite continued political instability – it is home to many of the leading cigar brands in the world including Perdomo, Drew Estate, Oliva, and My Father. While many in the public still hold the mythological notion of Cuba as the cigar capital of the world, cigar lovers know that Nicaragua has become home to many of the most popular and highly-rated cigars today.
While Cuba had a long and proud cigar industry, it was gutted by the Communist take-over of Cuba under Fidel Castro. Many of the leading cigar-makers – among the best of the world – fled the dictatorship taking their knowledge – and seeds – with them. They relocated in many places including the Dominican Republic – and Nicaragua, where the rich volcanic soil and ideal climate awaited the dedication and skill of expert cigar crafters.
Esteli lies in northern Nicaragua, close the border with Honduras and 67 (direct) miles north of Managua, the capital. In 2015, our Cigar Box/Smoke Rings group toured the Tabacalera Perdomo facilities. We flew into Managua – about a three-hour flight from Miami. Nicaragua has a population of about 6.2 million, with over 1.3 million living in the capital city and metropolitan area. From Managua, we traveled by school bus on the famous Route 1 – Pan-American Highway – north through the incredible views of countryside valleys and over mountains dotted by lean-tos and small shanty towns. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Latin America behind only Haiti as poorest in the western hemisphere. The poverty in places along the trip was clear as about 75% of Nicaraguans survive on less than $2 per day.
Esteli, the third largest city in the country with about 90,000 people lies along the Esteli River in the highlands at an elevation of over 2600 feet. The consistently sunny, hot days and cool nights during the growing season are perfect for the tobacco fields of the region including the fields of Esteli, Condega and Jalapa valley. Esteli’s population is about 90,000 and is much more ‘modern’ than the countryside with gas stations, supermarkets and fast food stops.
The Esteli region was the center of much of the fighting during the turmoil that gripped the country in its civil war in the 1970s-1980s – fighting that became the focus of attention of the United States under Ronald Reagan during our world-wide Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union and the threat of the spread of Communism.
SANDANISTAS, CONTRAS AND DANIEL ORTEGA
Nicaragua lived under the brutal and corrupt Somoza family dictatorship from 1936 to 1979. The Somoza dynasty was overthrown in a violent struggle by the Sandinista Liberation Front in 1979 – a left-wing guerilla force led by a group including Daniel Ortega. After seizing power, the Sandinistas moved to consolidate it through alliances and aid from the Soviet Union, Cuba and other communist nations around the world. Anti-Sandinista groups coalesced into forces called the “Contras.” The United States provided aid to the Contras through covert operations spearheaded by Reagan’s legendary CIA Director & spymaster William Casey, National Security Advisor Admiral John Poindexter and included Lt. Colonel Oliver North – as a way to slow Soviet influence in the Americas and the spread of left-wing revolutionaries to neighboring countries. The Sandinistas-Contra fighting ended with a peace accord in 1990 with political power to be settled through elections bringing hopes for a lasting peace which would set the stage for economic development and importantly for us – the cigar industry.
The President of Nicaragua today is Daniel Ortega – the same Daniel Ortega that led the junta that governed Nicaragua under the Sandinistas from 1979-1990. Ortega – trading his fatigues for a suit – ran for President and lost in 1996 and 2001. He then won in 2006 and again forged alliances with enemies of America like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Iran. Since then, Ortega – who later installed his wife as vice-president – consolidated power by taking control of the courts, police and military and crushing the free press. Protest movements against Ortega’s corrupt and ineffective government erupted in 2018 – and the Ortega was ruthless in crushing the movements to keep himself and his family in power.
THE TRAGEDY OF NICARAGUA AND ANIMAL FARM
The tragedy of Nicaragua is its unfilled potential. With a west coast on the Pacific and an east coast on the Caribbean, it is a potential tourist attraction, not to mention an area with untapped economic potential beyond the tobacco, coffee and banana industries.
You’ve probably heard of or read George Orwell’s satire on communism called Animal Farm – which tragically is the template for many third world countries including Cuba and Nicaragua. In it, the animals on the farm dream of a better future where they won’t be exploited to create wealth that they will never share. Pigs – as the most intelligent of the animals – come to lead the overthrow of humans on the farm, promising a better life where animals are equal. Over time, the pigs become “more equal” and eventually run the farm to benefit themselves, moving into the human’s houses and getting the best food and comforts – making it difficult to tell the difference between life under the pigs and life the way it used to be – other than the constant propaganda slamming the bad old days and praising the ‘new’ way of life.
For the people of Nicaragua today – like life under Somoza – the beauty and character of the country hold the promise of better days for its people – opportunities for farming, investment, tourism and creating a middle class that remain elusive under Ortega. That promise remains stunted by corruption, poverty, repression, and government that exists to benefit itself at the expense of its people.
Whether Ortega’s Nicaragua or Castro’s Cuba – the potential for those people is there – as are the hope that free and open democracies will someday emerge – good for their people, good for the world, good for the cigar industry we enjoy – and that provides much needed employment, stability, and progress.
As we saw with our own eyes, the cigar operations in Esteli help provide employment in that region, a better standard of living than in other regions of the country, and opportunities that don’t exist across society. This industry is a life-line for the people who create hand-made premium cigars to export around the world. As you enjoy your cigars from Nicaragua – remember the many hands that made it and a better life the people of their country might one day live.
Jump back to our previous posts for a tour of Tabacalera Perdomo, the growing significance of Nicaragua in the cigar industry and the consequences that misguided regulations periodically proposed in the United States would have. The slideshow is from our 2015 trip.