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What is the Link Between JFK and Cuban Cigars?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 16, 2024
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It could be seen as the ultimate representation of the saying, "Do as I say not as I do." In 1961, President John F. Kennedy (JFK) imposed a total trade embargo with Cuba. But before doing so, he made sure that he had taken care of his own desires. While the rest of America was denied their favorite Cuban cigars, JFK made sure he would not be going without.

The trade embargo with Cuba took place shortly after America tried to re-invade Cuba in 1961, known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. At the time Pierre Salinger was JFK's press secretary. Salinger was himself an avid cigar smoker and a fan in particular of Cuban cigars. JFK was also a smoker of Cuban cigars and called Salinger into his office on an extremely important task. President Kennedy required Salinger to find him at least 1000 H. Upmann Petit Upmann Cuban cigars. Upmanns are creamy, smooth Cuban cigars with something of a bite about them. JFK wanted 1000 of these Cuban cigars by the next morning.

Salinger was familiar with many cigar stores and made a frantic search that same evening. The next day he walked into the presidential office with around 1,200 Cuban cigars. As soon as JFK saw that he now had a fairly good stock, he opened a drawer and took out a document and quickly signed it. This document was an order banning all Cuban products into the USA. This trade embargo is still in existence to this day.

Although those Cuban cigars were not technically illegal, Salinger would in the future procure illegal Cuban cigars for the President. In 1962 Salinger traveled to Moscow to meet with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. At the end of the meeting Khrushchev presented Salinger with 250 Cuban cigars. Salinger knew that taking these Cuban cigars back to the US was illegal. He also knew that as he had a special Presidential diplomatic passport there would be no problems at the US customs.

When Salinger handed the Cuban cigars over to JFK, the President was said to be shocked. He ordered Salinger to hand them over to the Chief of Customs. He also told Salinger to make sure that he got a receipt for them, as he no longer trusted Salinger in regards to cigars. When Salinger asked what JFK intended to do with the cigars, the reply was that he was going to destroy them. To which Salinger skeptically replied that he knew the president was going to destroy the cigars, "one by one."

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Discussion Comments
By anon94469 — On Jul 08, 2010

OK, I knew a lot of things about JFK before I read this, but not that he smoked Cuban cigars! I didn't know he was this contradictory! Oh, OK why don't I smoke Cuban cigars and then impose a trade embargo with Cuba? Not that that's bad, it just seems odd. But, oh well, every man to his own.

By anon38184 — On Jul 24, 2009

When Salinger asked what JFK intended to do with the cigars, the reply was that he was going to destroy them. To which Salinger skeptically replied that he knew the president was going to destroy the cigars, "one by one."

This statement is incorrect, Kennedy had Salinger take the cigars to the Chief of Customs who is the one that was going to destroy them "one by one" or so states Salinger.

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