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Legend, My old cigar source.

jw517jw517 Wi.Posts: 236 ✭✭✭
Very insteresting eulogy by Lew Rothman. Make you really appreciate Don Juan Francisco Bermejo's contribution to the industry.


http://www.holt.no/cigar/cubanske_tobakkssfro.html


Don Juan Francisco Bermejo Passes Away


Last night, Don Juan Francisco Bermejo, one of the true pioneers of the cigar industry passed away in his sleep after several years of poor health. And that is what this story is about - a legendary hero. Juan was a quiet, hard working man who in his lifetime encountered adversity and ill fortune in Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, that would have destroyed a lesser man. Nevertheless, at the time of his death, he had become Nicaragua's largest producer of hand made cigars, and the industry's largest employer. Despite the many innovative and widespread changes he brought to the making of handmade cigars, he has never been the recipient of the credit to which he was due. 

In fact, his name has rarely appeared in print other than in Nicaragua itself. Juan Francisco Bermejo, was a disciple of the legendary Angel Oliva, the founder of Nicaragua Cigar, the former partner of Carlos Fuente and Simon Camacho, the creator of the modern system of hand making cigars, and one of the true pioneers of the post-embargo cigar industry.

Don Juan, as most people called him, was born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba in 1929 and left school in his early childhood to work at the El Tiempo Cigar Factory where he learned both the art of processing tobaccos and the now defunct process of creating hand made cigars using the "entubar" process1. In 1947, at the age of 18 he decided to open his own cigar factory in El Cayuco, Cuba, founding the El Rosia Cigar company. Bermejo operated this factory for the next ten years while also developing a sideline business of brokering tobacco, a sideline which was to greatly surpass his cigar making venture in both volume and profitability. From 1947 to 1960 Bermejo supplied Vuelta Abajo filler tobaccos to the Cuban Factories of Bauza, El Galileo, El Surco, and others, and short filler to the Toranos for scrap cigars.

Then things started to fall apart in Cuba as the Castro regime began to encroach more and more on free enterprise. Bermejo saw the handwriting on the wall in 1960 as friends, relatives, and other people in the tobacco industry who had seen their homes, farms and factories seized, started to arrive at his apartment in Havana seeking to hide from the Castro regime until they could make arrangements to flee the island. After several bad scares Bermejo himself began to make plans to leave his beloved homeland, but first he devised a plan to get some precious Cuban Seed out of the country so that he could start life anew somewhere else.

If you are smoking any legal cigar today that contains Cuban Seed Tobacco (that is tobacco whose seed is of Cuban origin, but grown in a country other than Cuba), then you are smoking a product that would not have been possible were it not for Juan Bermejo. In 1961, Bermejo managed to get 8 pounds of Cuban Seed out of the country through the Honduran Embassy.

Then, joining his partner Jorge Bueso, a test crop was planted in the fall of 1961 on a farm in Copan, Honduras, that had formerly grown cigarette tobacco for British American Tobacco. Bermejo endured unspeakable living conditions as Honduras was a completely undeveloped nation at the time. In Honduras in 1961, 60% of the children died before reaching the age of 12, everyone carried guns, and a life could be taken for as little as one or two hundred dollars with the body never found. Life was unbearable, but the test crop of 10 acres of shade tobacco for candela, and 15 acres of sungrown tobacco was a success.

Bermejo then needed to build barns to hang the tobacco crop. So he asked around and got the name of a builder to do the construction of the massive barns he would need. Several days later the contractor arrived with twelve helpers. They were all barefoot, each carrying a small burlap bag containing their equipment: an axe and a small sledge hammer ! In 90 days these men built 3 massive barns. One to firecure light green candela wrappers and two for natural sungrown tobaccos. 

The first tobacco buyers to see this tobacco crop had to be coaxed by Angel Oliva into making the difficult journey from America to this remote area in the rugged hills of Honduras. The two brave souls that accompanied Mr. Oliva were John Gorman and Luis Pedreida, who were in charge of buying leaf tobacco for the American Tobacco Co., owners of the La Corona, Henry Clay, Cabanas, Antonio y Cleopatra, and Roi Tan cigar brands.

Comments

  • jw517jw517 Wi.Posts: 236 ✭✭✭

    History is full of amazing coincidences, but perhaps none is more amazing than what occurred with this initial test tobacco crop. On the very day that small group of tobacco men stood in the wilds of Honduras, completely cut off from news of the outside world, examining the results of Bermejo's test crop, the Cuban Embargo was declared !! Little did the four men realize that the tobacco in their hands and the Cuban Seed in Bermejo's possession would become the entire foundation for the manufacturing of premium cigars for the next 40 years, and the most significant event in the entire history of the post-embargo cigar industry !!

    Bermejo planted the first commercial crops of Cuban Seed tobacco ever grown in Central America. Financed by the Oliva family, cuban seed tobacco was planted at Jaral and Yaragueta and Copan on a farm called Santa Luz where Bermejo lived in a house that was previously used as a dog pen. 

    When the crop was nearing maturity Angel Oliva brought the first American manufacturer to see the results of Bermejo's work. This was Frank Llaneza of Villazon, whom Mr. Oliva had known from Cuba. Mr. Oliva had told Frank that these tobaccos were the answer to the Cuban Embargo. They were heavy bodied, strong, resilient, and an equal to the Cuban tobaccos in every respect. Frank, a lifelong tobacco man, could not resist the temptation of being the first manufacturer to get his hands on these tobaccos and after a perilous, and almost fatal trip to Bermejo's operation, he contracted to buy the crop, which resulted in the actual birth of the premium cigar industry outside Cuba.

    With that first successful sale, Angel Oliva commissioned Bermejo to find more farms, and Juan founded La Meca on the Rio Jagua, La Entrada, and other farms, all financed by the Olivas and supervised by Bermejo.

    In 1964, Bermejo sold his stock in the leaf tobacco company to the Oliva family and moved to Miami, where he set up an import-export company selling equipment for tobacco growing in Honduras.

    Then in 1966 he returned to Central American and started a farm called Pasa Leon in Nicaragua to grow cuban seed tobacco. At the same time, in partnership with Simon Camacho, another ex-patriate Cuban, he started Nicaragua Cigar, the company which would become Nicaragua's largest factory producing brands such as Joya de Nicaragua, El Caudillo, Maria Mancini, Count Christopher, Medal of Honor, Jericho, Camacho, Fifty Club and Rosalones. The factory received all its raw materials from Bermejo's Pasa Leon Farm and another farm he started in Jalapa, Nicaragua called Por Venir (the future). It was at Nicaragua Cigar that Bermejo installed a new system for making hand made cigars. Prior to this time an individual cigarmaker made both the bunch of the cigar and applied the wrapper.

    Bermejo changed this system so that workers either exclusively made bunches or applied wrappers. This increased both production and quality dramatically, as cigarmakers now became specialists at either making solidly filled bunches or tightly stretched wrappers. Today, the system Bermejo devised over 30 years ago is the standard of the industry and is utilized throughout the world.

    Bermejo's production at Nicaragua Cigar increased every year until he sold his stock in the factory to Anastasio Somoza, the President of Nicaragua in 1976.

  • jw517jw517 Wi.Posts: 236 ✭✭✭
    Then, in 1976, Bermejo and Carlos Fuente went into a 50/50 partnership and started the Don Victor Cigar Company in Esteli, Nicaragua. They produced four brands: Don Victor, Fuente, Domino, and Montesino. It was here that Carlos Fuente Jr. (Carlito) learned the cigar making craft. Then in 1978 the factory caught fire and burned. So Bermejo and Fuente built a second factory which was burned in the revolution that shook Nicaragua in 1979.

    Then, unbelievably, they built a third factory, this time in the town of Somoto in Nicaragua. As luck would have it, even though this factory was not burned, both Carlos and Juan were forced to leave the country when the Sandinistas took control. Carlos went to the Dominican Republic, where he has become a legend, and Juan went to El Paraiso in Honduras where he built another factory. In El Paraiso he produced the Bermejo cigar which he sold through the company he still owned in Miami. Unfortunately, one misfortune after another struck this factory and finally he decided to abandon cigar manufacturing forever and all time, and return to farming.

    So, in 1980 he sold the factory's equipment and labels to Frank Llaneza's Honduras American Tobacco Co. But Bermejo was no where near finished with his run of bad luck, and his perseverance is a monumental credit to the character of this man.

    In 1981 Bermejo went to the Dominican Republic, and with financing supplied by the Oliva family he started a new farm called La Isabella which was located in the exact spot Columbus is said to have landed in 1492. That spot it turns out, was a lot luckier for Columbus than it was for Bermejo. His entire crop was wiped out by Blue Mold, a disease which affects tobacco when it is subjected to cool, wet weather. Bermejo returned to Miami and was forced to sell his property in Little Havana to feed his family. For a lesser man it would have been the end of the line, but not for Bermejo. He did odd jobs for the next two years to earn a few extra dollars, and then came another call from the Olivas. The American Tobacco Company needed Candela Wrapper, and the Oliva Family offered to finance Bermejo if he would go to Panama to grow the wrapper. Bermejo leaped at the chance to get back in the industry and started a farm called Don Pepe in the valley of Chiriqui on the border between Panama and Costa Rica.

    But cruel fate struck again. The American Tobacco Co. was apparently planning to divest itself of it's Cigar Division and reneged on buying the crop. The Olivas informed American that this would ruin Bermejo, but it was to no avail - he just couldn't seem to get a break. Fortunately men like Bermejo make many friends along the way. Frank Llaneza came to the rescue and bought the crop, baling Bermejo out of a jam that would have left him destitute.

    A lesser man would have called it quits long before this, but Bermejo had the will and the tenacity of a bulldog. In 1985 he picked himself up and moved to Costa Rica where he started another farm, and a factory to utilize the tobacco he would grow there. But he didn't grow any tobacco !
  • jw517jw517 Wi.Posts: 236 ✭✭✭
    The Blue Mold found him again and wiped out his entire crop. In 1986, at the age of 57 he returned to Miami. He was broke and jobless, but not hopeless. He got himself a job selling insurance and then of all things, selling cemetery lots. The irony of it all was that here was one of the true pioneers of the cigar industry, a man who knew the business from the tobacco seedling to the finished cigar, a man who invented the modern method of cigar manufacturing, a man whose peer group included people like Frank Llaneza, Angel Oliva, and Carlos Fuente, and he couldn't find a home for his skills. 1986 became 1987, and 1987 became 1988 and nothing came his way until 1995 when the boom in premium cigars was approaching its zenith and retailers shelves throughout the nation were virtually depleted of inventory.

    Finally an offer came Bermejo's way.

    A major U.S. cigar distributor would supply all the financing needed to establish a major manufacturing facility in Nicaragua if Bermejo would consider moving back to Nicaragua where three of his factories had been burned, where his farms and home had been expropriated, and where he had been forced to leave penniless? His answer was an unqualified yes. He wanted to get back in the cigar business more than anything else in the world.

    In April 1995, N.A.T.S.A. (Nicaraguan American Tobacco) was established. In the course of just a few weeks, Bermejo purchased a building in which to locate the new factory, and hired his two factory foremen from the years in which he had owned Nicaragua Cigar. By August 1995 he had leased an additional 12,000 square foot building that adjoined the original factory. That same month he shipped the first cigars from that factory packed under the name La Trinidad, a nearby town where many of his workers lived.

    By the beginning of 1996 he was shipping two more brands, Rosa Cuba and Villar Y Villar. Then in the Spring of 1996, by which time his cigar makers had the skills he believed were necessary to produce a First Quality cigar, he began to ship the Jose Marti brand, one of the very few cigars produced anywhere in the world entirely by hand.

    Today, barely four years from it's birth, Bermejo's NATSA factory under the direction of his son Triki, has become the singularly largest factory in Nicaragua and the largest employer. Barely a month ago the Managua newspaper did a story about working conditions in the cigar factories throughout Nicaragua and singled out Bermejo as an example to all other employers in providing workers with medical care, dental care, and nursery care.
  • jw517jw517 Wi.Posts: 236 ✭✭✭
    jlmarta said:
    Uh, could you repeat that, please???  
    You serious Clark?
  • GaryThompsonGaryThompson South CarolinaPosts: 791 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Incredible. 
  • jw517jw517 Wi.Posts: 236 ✭✭✭
    I'm sorry. It's too much information ? I thought you readers here might be captured by it. :)
  • jw517jw517 Wi.Posts: 236 ✭✭✭
    Way back when,I was a BIG fan of a couple of Juan B.s blends/brands. Villar Villar,and Remedios. I tried about every size of V.V. he made. Great stuff! Remedios were good too. I didn't like La Finca so much.(bland) I was looking to see what became of him and stumbled on this WEALTH of information and thought I'd share. Again,sorry it's so long to read. John
  • jlmartajlmarta 50 miles from ParadisePosts: 7,477 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited January 2018
    Relax, @Cigar-20064664, i’se jes’ yankin’ your chain.....  :#

    P.S. Ya might oughta consider changing your forum name to something a little easier.....  just my $.02
  • jw517jw517 Wi.Posts: 236 ✭✭✭
    edited January 2018
    I did, can't you tell? I'm use to just being a number. Just kidding,I can't change it. I tried 24 times and gave up. I can't change my pic either. It might be cause I'm from the cheese state?
  • jlmarta said:
    Uh, could you repeat that, please???  
    You serious Clark?

  • I'm sorry. It's too much information ? I thought you readers here might be captured by it. :)
    No, no, no, I for one am truly appreciative...I read this to my kids and they're fast asleep...thanks

  • peter4jcpeter4jc Milwaukee, WIPosts: 7,998 ✭✭✭✭✭
    I'm sorry. It's too much information ? I thought you readers here might be captured by it. :)
    No, no, no, I for one am truly appreciative...I read this to my kids and they're fast asleep...thanks

    Good point, @smokingdog.
    "I could've had a Mi Querida!"   Nick Bardis
  • jw517jw517 Wi.Posts: 236 ✭✭✭
    edited January 2018
    I'm sorry. It's too much information ? I thought you readers here might be captured by it. :)
    No, no, no, I for one am truly appreciative...I read this to my kids and they're fast asleep...thanks

    I'm sorry. It's too much information ? I thought you readers here might be captured by it. :)
    No, no, no, I for one am truly appreciative...I read this to my kids and they're fast asleep...thanks

    That's beautiful!  Ya know,I haven't had a meister Brau in ages! 
    Post edited by jw517 on
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