Alicia Hernández is one of the workers at Maikel Osorio's farm.

Photo: Enrique González (Enro)/ Cubadebate.

Alicia Hernández retired seven years ago and returned to the world of tobacco.

She now dedicates herself to stringing leaves in a priest's house in Maikel Osorio's plain, in Hoyos de Monterrey.

Her sister, María del Carmen, who also lives in this area of ​​San Juan y Martínez, Pinar del Río, works with her.

More than a job, for these women, tobacco is a family tradition.

“Our father was a small farmer and since we were girls we went with him to the fields, to string tobacco.

In my case, I later started working in a company, but I continued helping him on the weekends,” says Alicia.

She and her sister are two of the 12 women who work in this meadow.

The place, in itself, is an invitation to visit.

From the colorful crops, to the intense yellow of the priest's house and the sign on its roof - where you can read:

“San Juan y Martínez, the Mecca of tobacco” -

;

The visitor begins to wonder what lies behind this culture of detail.

The priest's house is a cool place.

If you look up, you will find thousands of leaves strung on cujes, which

must wait around three and a half months to complete the drying process.

From the colorful crops to the intense yellow of the priest's house and the sign on its roof, where you can read: “San Juan y Martínez, the Mecca of tobacco”;

The visitor begins to wonder what lies behind this culture of detail.

Photo: Enrique González (Enro)/ Cubadebate.

Outside, diversity prevails: from plants that have already completed the growth process to some that are just a few centimeters long, which were planted a few days ago.

Although the women who string the leaves are mostly elderly, those who work the fields - 15 men - are largely young.

Lázaro Jesús Díaz Antigua and his son work on the plantations.

According to Lázaro, the best season to plant tobacco is from September onwards.

“In the town we don't have many job options, and we count on this stage to survive and develop,” he explains.

As for his boss, Maikel Osorio, he is a young man in his early 30s who inherited his father's farm about three years ago.

Since his father started in the world of tobacco, in 2006, the young man began to be interested in agriculture.

“I was 16 years old then.

“I went to school and in the afternoon I went to work the land.”

Maikel Osorio's farm

has the capacity to provide the country with 1.6 tons of tobacco per hectare.

However, weather events can affect yield, as with all crops.

15 men work on the plantations.

Photo: Enrique González (Enro)/ Cubadebate.

This was the case of Hurricane Ian, which devastated the province of Pina del Río a little over a year ago.

One priest's house was demolished for Osorio and the other was damaged.

“The next year we planted tobacco, but not 100% of the

6.9 hectares that I usually harvest,

but half, because we had only one cure house,” he recalls.

This year he planted 100% of his land and, thanks to the company and the cooperative, he was able to build the second nursing home again.

Osorio harvests, strings, dries and sells his productions to the Hermanos Saíz Municipal Tobacco Company, which is in charge of the following industrial processes.

The tobacco leaves he collects, sown in the sun, form the filler of the cigars.

This means that its subsequent industrial process takes place in a destemming center.

Tobacco curing house, in the Hoyos de Monterrey area, in San Juan and Martínez.

Photo: Enrique González (Enro)/ Cubadebate.

Industrial processes at the municipal level

Luis Ángel Ortega has been working as a destemmer for four years.

Photo: Enrique González (Enro)/ Cubadebate.

The only entity where destemming takes place in San Juan and Martínez is the UEB Despalillo VD-2, designed to process the export casing, which later passes to the

export twisting

.

According to Vladimir Ríos Pérez, director of Pre-industry at the Hermanos Saíz Tobacco Company, when the selected raw materials are received, a pre-moja is made.

Then the leaf is shaken to work the tobacco;

and it is passed to the wet, in large basins.

Later, the leaves are placed in boxes, where they can remain for up to 30 days.

Once the previous process is completed, the leaf arrives at the salons to be destemmed.

The tobacco enters with a defined characteristic, which is the filler according to its strength, and in the room it is classified according to its size, and

50% of the leaf is destemmed.

Subsequently, it is taken to the donkeys or piles, where, depending on the strength, it can be between 15 and 90 days, as part of the second and most important fermentation that takes place in destemming.

Finally, it is decided whether the tobacco is in optimal condition to take it to the drying chambers, where it is placed in sheets of up to five centimeters.

Juana Ruz García is 77 years old and is an assistant destemmer at the UEB.

At 55 years old she retired in this same place, after more than a decade of working as a destemmer.

Now she returned, to help her daughter and her granddaughter in the work.

“I like this, it entertains me.

And I will be here until God allows it,” she confesses.

Juana Ruz García is 77 years old and is an assistant destemmer at the UEB.

Photo: Enrique González (Enro)/ Cubadebate.

In the destemming room there are a variety of faces.

Mostly middle-aged women, but also older and younger adults.

This is the case of Luis Ángel Ortega, who at 24 years old surprises with his skill and speed when working.

“As soon as I got out of military service, I joined this center and I've been here for four years,” he says.

Regarding his professional future, he points out that he cannot imagine another place to work at the moment, and he defines himself as passionate about the world of tobacco.

Liliana Peña Márquez has other plans, who at 23 years old and after almost five years as a destemmer, is studying to obtain the twelfth grade and opt for another professional future.

Handling of tobacco in the UEB V-12-28 of the Hermanos Saíz Company.

Photo: Enrique González (Enro)/ Cubadebate.

The tobacco that is planted covered - which is used for the binder -

requires another industrial treatment

that, in the case of San Juan and Martínez, is developed in the UEB V-12-28 of the Hermanos Saíz Company.

Tobacco destined for export and national consumption is processed there.

“The farmers are our clients

and we collect tobacco from them by cuts.

These leaves are not destemmed, but rather go through other processes,” explains Ellimay Herrera Linares, administrator of the UEB.

Curiously, as on Maikel Osorio's farm, there is a certain division of labor by sex.

Generally, women are in charge of separating tobacco by type of leaf and time;

and the men select it by size and deal with the revision.

In the UEB V-12-28 the tobacco is put on donkeys for a time, goes to bunching and then to finished production, where the bundles (of around 200 leaves each) are wrapped with yagua and paper.

“The productions in the municipality reach this level.

Then we market the tobacco to the Rama production insurance company, which is responsible for distributing it to the twisting factories,” says Ellimay.

Pinar del Río: Soul of the Cuban tobacco industry

Pinar del Río contributes more than 70% of Cuban tobacco activity.

Photo: Enrique González (Enro)/ Cubadebate.

Pinar del Río contributes more than 70% of Cuban tobacco activity.

It has 11 companies dedicated to this purpose and in each municipality there is one,” says Luis Enrique Blanco Martínez, agricultural director of the Tabacuba group.

In the westernmost part of the country,

all types of tobacco are produced

and, according to the manager, technologies are being introduced to enhance the production of wrappers with a high exportable value.

Tabacuba allocates financing to promote healing, irrigation and the use of renewable energy.

“We have drawn up strategies, lines of assurance, and we have stable suppliers.

In addition, we work with the recently created Tabaimport, to import the resources we need,” explains Blanco Martínez.

Such is the relevance of the province, that the results of the farm and the two UEBs of San Juan and Martínez to which we have referred, made them key visiting points during the XXIV Habano Festival.

Beyond the industrial process itself, the humility and willingness of the workers in each place is surprising.

They are the soul of the process and their idiosyncrasy nourishes with Cubanness the ritual of making the best cigars in the world: cigars, those that are still made by hand and with pure heart.

Cuban tobacco is recognized around the world for its variety and quality.

Photo: Enrique González (Enro)/ Cubadebate.

Tobacco curing house, in the Hoyos de Monterrey area, in San Juan and Martínez.

Photo: Enrique González (Enro)/ Cubadebate.

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