The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Adbullah Ahmad Badawi was featured in a newspaper article (datelined 26 Nov 2004) with President of Cuba, Fidel Castro when he was on an official visit to Cuba, last year.
His name "Hiroshy" is Japanese but he does not speak Japanese and neither had he ever been in Japan.
Hiroshy is from Havana, Cuba and like most Cubanos, he speaks Spanish. He is on a visit to Malaysia and has been here for the past two weeks. This is one of the Asian countries that he is visiting for the first time since leaving Cuba five months ago.
Earlier, he and his companion, Bernard, were in Thailand and Laos and they are very impressed by the warmness of the Asians that they have met.
An engineer in Information Technology, he is married and they have a four year old son.
An official opening ceremony for the exhibiting of Cuban paintings was held on the early evening of 01 June, 2005 at the 1 Utama Shopping Complex in Bandar Utama, Kuala Lumpur.
Dato' G Palanivel, the deputy minister in the Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development who spoke 'off the cuff' at the event was the Guest of Honour. Also present among the number of distinguished guests were the Crown Prince of Negri Sembilan, His Highness Tunku Naquiyuddin, the Ambassador of Cuba to Malaysia, HE Pedro Munzon Barata and a Minister from Cuba, HE Bernand who is on a working visit to Malaysia.
The exhibition is to showcase a number of paintings by a renowned Cuban artist, Gilberto Frometa. The exhibition, open to the public, will be from the 01 to 08 June, 2005.
Night of merriment at Cuban embassy By LIM CHIA YING GUESTS had the opportunity to puff away Cuban cigars and sip on Cuban vodkas and wines during the recent dinner reception hosted by the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba to celebrate the arrival of Cuban tobacco producer Don Alejandro Robaina.
The reception on May 18 was part of the programme line-up in conjunction with the Festival Cubano 2005.
A press conference was held on May 18 at Qba, Westin Hotel Kuala Lumpur, to mark the launching of Festival Cubano the following day.
The hosts for the evening were Cuba ambassador MA Pedro Monzon Barata and wife Silvia Baeza de Monzon.
(From left) Guests Kamarul Ariffin, Barata, and Bioven Holdings Sdn Bhd Johan Indot chatting with Don Alejandro and Hirochi.
Don Alejandro's visit to Malaysia was at the invitation of the Havana Club, Concorde Hotel Kuala Lumpur. Accompanying him was grandson Hirochi Robaina.
Many took the opportunity to pose for photos with the 86-year-old Don Alejandro who was seated on a sofa in the embassy hall.
Colourful oil paintings dominated the interior of the place while quirky handicraft items and figurines fill the nooks and corners.
Malaysian cigar lovers learned, from Don Alejandro, about tobacco production in Pinar Del Rio, a province in Cuba.
His tobacco production company, Vegas Robaina, is one of the largest tobacco producers in Cuba.
And such synonymous is the Robaina family with the world of cigar that there is a brand called Robaina.
The Robaina family has been involved in the cigar business for six generations now - a heritage which is claimed to be unmatched by other cigar companies in Cuba so far.
The hall was soon shrouded with strong cigar smoke and it was obvious that all guests were enjoying themselves.
(From left ): Ambassador of Chile in Malaysia Patricio Torres with wife Cecilia Torres, and Asian Business Solutions chairman Tan Sri Ernest Zulliger having a good time at the dinner reception with renowned Cuban tobacco producer Don Alejandro Robaina.
Host Barata said a few words in honour of Don Alejandro.All were then invited to tuck into dinner served at the alfresco patio of the embassy.
It was a night of merriment as they partied away with sumptuous food and servings of Mojitos - the signature Cuban cocktail.
Copyright 1995-2004, Star Publications (Malaysia) Berhad. 10894-D.
Don Alejandro Robaina, producer of the finest cigar wrappers in the world.
Don Alejandro Robaina, master of cigars
By ALLAN KOAY
Looking at Don Alejandro Robaina, an 86-year-old unassuming, small-framed man, you would not reckon that he is the “Godfather of Cuban cigars.” But the fact remains that he is the man who is widely recognised as the producer of the finest cigar wrappers in the world.
Robaina and his grandson, Hirochi (who was born in Japan), were recently in Kuala Lumpur to attend a charity cigar auction organised by Havana Club, in aid of the Yayasan Raja Muda Selangor, under the patronage of the Sultan of Selangor. It was Robaina’s first visit to Asia, although he has travelled to many other countries before.
He has been photographed and interviewed many times, and has the prestige of being the first person to have a cigar (Vegas Robaina) named after him. Yet he remains a humble farmer, as he likes to describe himself.
Asked if it is true that he and his family live modestly on their farm in the province of Pinar Del Rio, Robaina replied: “My house is a farmer’s house. It’s very widely visited by everyone. We are a big family, and we get together in the evenings. Economically, we live very normal lives, and we are close-knit. I am happy and contented with what I have, and I don’t wish for any other kind of life.”
Robaina’s father, Maruto Robaina, was also hailed as the finest tobacco grower in Cuba. After his father’s death in 1950, Robaina took over the plantations and continued the production of wrappers used for the manufacture of Habanos cigars. Five generations of his ancestors grew tobacco on that land, and their tobacco dynasty is one of the oldest in Cuba.
After the revolution, Fidel Castro met with the tobacco farmers and suggested that the best way to improve the quality of the tobacco was to form cooperatives, because he believed quality was easier to ensure in a group rather than individually. But in a meeting with Castro in 1960, Robaina voiced his disagreement and his wish to be personally responsible for his own crop. In the end, he joined the cooperative as an independent member and ran his own business. But Robaina said the picture the world has of what happened is inaccurate.
“The world is wrong about this,” he said. “Those who wanted to become independent were allowed to do so. They were not forced in any way. I was not the only one who worked independently, because a lot of other farmers chose to do the same.”
Indeed, Castro was the one who labelled Robaina the best tobacco grower in Cuba, and reportedly presented him with a Russian Lada. Asked if he still meets with Castro these days, he replied: “Yes, more or less.”
And what do they talk about? “We talk about tobacco. What else do we talk about?” he smiled.
Today, the farm employs about 80 workers, but the number varies according to the season and weather. The number naturally increases during harvest time.
“There are weeks and months when I employ about 130 to 140 workers,” Robaina explained. “It all depends. I supervise about 80 of them myself. In Cuba, for certain kinds of jobs, the state allows us to have extra workers, around 40 to 50. For example, some workers are needed to get the plant, tie it up and allow it to grow. This is a very demanding job.”
Robaina once said that not only is the climate and land important for crops to grow well, the “soul” of a farmer is equally essential. To be a good tobacco producer, one must love the land, he said, and also care for one’s family.
Other important skills include knowing how to predict the weather. In a magazine interview last year, Robaina cheekily said he knew how to predict the weather by listening to the weather forecast on the radio. But as it turned out, he was serious about it.
“We practically don’t need to know how to predict nowadays because we now have the weather forecast,” he said. “These days, when something happens, it’s not a surprise anymore because it has been known beforehand. Tobacco is easier to cultivate nowadays, because there are scientists working to produce new seeds that are equal or better in quality than those I produce. Back in the old days, you have to look at the moon, and commit to memory what happened in the past so that you can compare it to current weather.
“Even the weather has changed nowadays. In the old days, February was deemed to be a bad month for the crops, but now, February is considered a good month.”
Today, Robaina has passed the tricks of the trade on to his grandson Hirochi and son Carlos. The two help him to supervise the plantations, although Robaina himself still goes out to the fields to check for illnesses and problems in the crops. And as head of the family, Robaina still has the final say on everything.
The farm also receives tourists and other visitors regularly. The number ranges from 20 to 100 visitors a day. Tourists often bring cigar boxes for him to autograph, while others bring him cigars from other parts of the world. And the only way to tell whether a cigar is good or bad? Well, by smoking it, said Robaina.
“It is the only natural way to know,” he added. “Every cigar has its own aroma and strength. And I prefer those with strength in their flavour.”
Robaina, who admitted he started smoking cigars at the age of 10, used to smoke a whopping 15 cigars a day. But due to his age, he has had to reduce the number.
But he proclaimed: “If it was not for that, I would have continued with 15.”
Havana cigars, one of the products of Cuba's economy with greater international recognition, treasure in its green leaves and unique aroma a history that is more than five centuries old, thus becoming a hallmark of Cuban tobacco.
According to legends, when Admiral Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, he sent two of his best men with introduction letters from the Catholic King and Queen of Spain to the Emperor of China, since he thought they had arrived in that Asian country.
For Rodrigo de Xerez and Luis de Torres, the two men sent by Columbus, reality was completely different when they met with aborigines holding rolls of leaves between their lips. The natives lighted one of the ends of the roll and absorbed the smoke from the other end.
That way, unintentionally, Columbus discovered one of Cuba's biggest treasures, and even some of his companions, including Xerez, became aficionados to these aromatic leaves, so the words "tobacco" and "cigar" were incorporated into the vocabulary of the inhabitants of the old continent.
Although tobacco is harvested in most Cuban provinces, the best soil for this crop is located in western Pinar del Río province - especially in Vueltabajo, which is considered the region of the world's best tobacco.
A perfect combination of soils, climate and humidity results in a product regarded as unique in the world, because of its aroma, color, texture and flavor. All these characteristics are essential when rolling the famous Havana cigars, whose demand is increasing among the most select cigar aficionados.
Cuba's cigar industry meets the needs of the most demanding cigar aficionados, with dozens of trademarks and more than 700 vitolas, all of which are high quality.
The excellent plantations in western Pinar del Río province contribute the bulk of the leaves used for the outer layers of cigars. The leaves undergo a one-year, 190-operation process before ending up in the hands of a smoker.
For cigar rollers, making a Havana cigar is like creating a work of art, which is 100 percent handmade. The process of creation begins with the selection of the leaves according to their size and class, and the characteristics of each vitola.
Experts say that the secret of a good cigar lies in a perfect mixture, where dry and light leaves are combined in the right proportion.
Growing demand for Havana cigars have led to the opening of specialized establishments where customers can enjoy an excellent vitola and where the product is preserved under ideal conditions.
As a result of this, the art of specialized cabinetmakers plays an important role in the making of wooden humidors, which protect cigars from atmospheric changes and keep their aroma and flavor, so the humidors have become treasures for both collectors and cigar aficionados.
Tun Dr Mahathir, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, welcoming Vice President Raul Castro Ruz at his residence, Seri Cahaya during the Vice President recent 4 days official visit to Malaysia.
Vice President of Cuba, Raul Castro Ruz being briefed on the Petronas Twin Towers Project on the 83rd floor of the building. Later, the entourage proceeded to the 43rd floor where a tea reception was held at the Petroleum Club.
The Vice President waving goodbye from the Cubana aircraft at the end of his 4 days official visit to Malaysia.