HISTORY OF TOBACCO IN PUERTO RICO
In contrast to sugarcane and coffee, tobacco is native to the Caribbean, and its cultivation dates to pre-Columbian times. The plant was known among the Tainos who inhabited the major Caribbean islands as cogiba, whereas tobacco was the name of the pipe they used to smoke it. The church opposed the use of tobacco because it figured prominently in indigenous religious ceremonies, which were considered “idolatrous,” and accordingly prevented tobacco’s introduction in Spain until the middle of the sixteenth century. Exports of tobacco were first authorized in 1614 with the standard colonial monopolistic restriction that all transactions had to pass through Seville’s Casa de Contratación.1
The inclusion of Puerto Rico in the tariff structure of the United States after 1898 guaranteed the free entrance of many island products into the mainland and dramatically accelerated the existing production of agricultural commodities. Tobacco leaf was included in this tariff exemption, and Puerto Rican farmers in the highland regions of the island made the cultivation of tobacco for the American market their most important economic activity during the first four decades of the twentieth century.2
From 1907 to 1917, tobacco was a top-three cash crop along with sugar and coffee. From 1921 to 1940, tobacco was Puerto Rico’s second-leading export, according to Jorge Duany, author of “Puerto Rico: What Everyone Needs to Know.” But by the early 1920s, the cigar industry diminished as cigarette smoking became more fashionable. With the exception of a few small exclusive cigar manufactures, the majority of cigar houses became mechanized: forcing the majority of cigar workers to seek other forms of income.3
Acosta Cigar Comapny – The Farm in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico
Delvis Leiva, from Acosta Cigar Company, has taken the monumental task of using his years of experience in the world of tobacco in Cuba and reestablishing a commercial growing of tobacco in Puerto Rico. With plans of planting various varieties of tobacco like Corojo, Criollo, Habano, and Hoja Prieto – a tobacco variety that is local to Puerto Rico and extensively used in the past and considered by some as – “the tastiest wrapper in the world.”
I’ve shared a small video of the early stages where the land is being cleared of all the brush and bushes so that we can start the preparation of the land for farming.
1 Ayala, C., & Bergad, L. (2020). The Tobacco Industry. In Agrarian Puerto Rico: Reconsidering Rural Economy and Society, 1899–1940 (pp. 91-109). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108763981.005
2 Black, John D., ‘The Role of Public Agencies in the Internal Readjustments of the Farm’, Journal of Farm Economics 7:2 (1925), pp. 153–75.
3 libcom.org – https://libcom.org/history/puerto-rican-cigar-history