Brazil's ban on Cuban cigars leaves leftwingers fuming

  • Havana alleges ‘servile and perverse’ bid to back US embargo
  • Bolsonaro government cites ‘strictly technical criteria’ for ban

The Cuban government has accused Brazil’s far-right president of depriving Brazilian smokers of “the best Habano cigars in the world” as part of a “servile and perverse” US-backed campaign against the communist-run island.

Jair Bolsonaro has made attacking authoritarian regimes a mainstay of his discourse since taking office in January – providing they are leftwing.

And some suspect that hostility lay behind recent moves by Anvisa, Brazil’s answer to the Food Standards Agency, to ban the sale of Cuba’s flagship Cohiba cigars. The decision was reportedly based on the discovery that one batch of imported Cohibas contained an excess of sobric acid.

Cuba’s foreign trade minister, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, slammed the ban on Tuesday.

“A ridiculous pretext,” he tweeted, adding: “Perhaps [Bolsonaro’s government] was given some instruction from Washington to contribute to the blockade of Cuba.”

A journalist for Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, branded Brazil’s move a crude, servile and perverse “manoeuvre … which was suspiciously in tune with United States government’s policy to intensify its criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade” of the Caribbean island.

The journalist insisted only the finest tobacco leaves were used to make Cohiba cigars, which were created in 1966 for Cuba’s then leader, Fidel Castro.

There was also criticism of the move in Brazil, with one leftwing website claiming the “totally political and ideological” ban was clearly linked to Bolsonaro’s “vulgar” opposition to communism.

In a statement to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper Anvisa said its analysis of cigars was routine and applied “strictly technical criteria”.

The director of the Brazilian importer whose Cohibas had fallen foul insisted his company handled only “100% natural” products.

Relations between Havana and Brasília have soured dramatically since Bolsonaro took power.

Even before the far-right populist’s inauguration, Havana announced it would recall thousands of Cuban doctors working in Brazil as part of a health program launched under its former leftist president Dilma Rousseff.

In one interview Bolsonaro hinted he was considering closing Brazil’s embassy in Havana, although he has yet to follow through. “What business is there to do with Cuba?” he asked.

The president’s son, Eduardo – who many regard as Brazil’s de facto foreign minister – last year said he hoped Brazil could host an international tribunal “to judge the crimes against humanity committed by the Cuban regime”.


Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Thousands of Cuban doctors leave Brazil after Bolsonaro's win
Cuba has begun pulling out 8,300 doctors working in poor and remote regions of Brazil after far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro demanded contract changes to programme

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro and Ed Augustin in Havana

23, Nov, 2018 @9:33 AM

Article image
US ends limit on amount of Cuban rum and cigars travelers can bring back
Obama signs executive order eliminating $100 maximum in an accelerated effort to normalize relationships between the two countries before he leaves office

Jamiles Lartey

14, Oct, 2016 @4:43 PM

Article image
Cuban blogger appeals to Brazil's president for help to leave Cuba
Dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez has issued a video plea after being denied permission to leave the country since 2004

Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

05, Jan, 2012 @7:08 PM

Article image
Brazil's doctors jeer at Cuban medics arriving to work in rural health scheme

President Dilma Rousseff accuses Brazilians of 'immense prejudice' after chants of 'slave' greet Havana arrivals

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro

28, Aug, 2013 @8:50 PM

Closer, but still no Cuban cigars
America's decision to open up limited trade with Cuba after a 40-year blockade could mark a change in attitudes to sanctions around the world, writes the Guardian's former US correspondent Mark Tran.

Mark Tran

28, Jun, 2000 @1:04 AM

Article image
Brazil's sole openly gay congressman leaves country after death threats
Jean Wyllys said he was currently outside of the country and had no plans to return after a growing number of threats in past year

Staff and agencies in Rio de Janeiro

24, Jan, 2019 @10:10 PM

Article image
Don't let Cuban cigars be stubbed out | Sholto Byrnes

Sholto Byrnes: The drop in cigar exports is a heavy blow for Cuba's ailing economy – it's time for us to show some support

Sholto Byrnes

24, Jun, 2010 @4:00 PM

Article image
Covid eruption in Brazil's largest state leaves health workers begging for help
Governor of Amazonas says situation critical as alarming details emerge about breakdown of health system in state capital Manaus

Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

14, Jan, 2021 @7:28 PM

Article image
Brazilian president's son suggests using dictatorship-era tactics on leftist foes
Eduardo Bolsonaro’s incendiary remarks prompted many across the political spectrum to condemn him

Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent

01, Nov, 2019 @5:19 PM

Article image
Pablo Milanés, legendary Cuban singer-songwriter, dies aged 79
Internationally famous musician known for hits such as Yolanda, was a supporter of Cuban revolution

Sam Jones in Madrid and agencies

22, Nov, 2022 @4:15 PM