Ailing Cuba tobacco legend celebrates 91st birthday

Sat Mar 20, 2010 8:20pm EDT
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By Jeff Franks

SAN LUIS, Cuba (Reuters) - Cuban tobacco legend Alejandro Robaina celebrated his 91st birthday on Saturday, weakened by ill health but surrounded by friends and family and the tobacco fields that have been his life.

The man known in international cigar circles for producing the finest of Cuba's famous tobacco had to be helped to walk but puffed contentedly on a cigar while getting hugs and kisses from about two dozen people outside his modest home in Cuba's Vuelta Abajo tobacco region near the western city of Pinar del Rio.

Chickens and dogs ran underfoot as relatives announced that a museum chronicling Robaina's life had opened on his 40-acre (16-hectare) farm, along with a smoking salon -- the Club de Fumadores Alejandro Robaina -- for the many visitors who come to the cigar lovers' haven.

He sat quietly in a chair, with green and cured tobacco leaves on a rack behind him, as admirers paid tribute with words and presents that included a photograph of Ernesto "Che" Guevara -- the Argentine who fought alongside Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution -- smoking a Robaina cigar.

Robaina has been ill the past year and does not receive many visitors. He did not address the crowd, but a smile crossed his wrinkled face when he talked about tobacco in a brief interview with Reuters.

Fields of the lush green plant, shaded from the sun by white cloth, nearly enclose his home and a well-manicured garden in the back yard.


The secret to growing the best tobacco was no secret at all, he said.   Continued...

<p>Cuban tobacco grower Alejandro Robaina, considered one of the best tobacco producers in the world, smokes one of his own brand during an interview with Reuters, at his farm in Pinar del Rio February 28, 2006. REUTERS/STR New</p>