by Raimundo Urrechaga
HAVANA, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Rolling cigars completely by hand is an art that has been passed down from generation to generation in Cuba.
Jose Alvarez, a Cuban cigar roller with over 25 years of experience, has transmitted his passion and professional knowledge about rolling cigars to the rest of his family.
Now at La Corona, one of the four largest cigar factories in Havana, he works along with his son and granddaughter. "I always feel so proud to work together with my son and my granddaughter and they are willing to continue the tradition. They learn from my experience and listen to my advice about this job," Alvarez told Xinhua.
"In my family, cigars are a tradition. Since I was a kid, my parents worked as cigar rollers in Cienfuegos (a city on the southern coast of Cuba) and I visited factories where tobaccos were made to learn about this world," Alvarez said.
According to the cigar maker, it was his wife who introduced him to this sector as she was already a cigar roller when they met.
On each working day, Alvarez rolls about 120 cigars on average, which is "exhausting, but rewarding at the same time," he said.
"Cigars are a symbol of Cuba. Cultivated and made exclusively in this Caribbean nation, cigars are an authentic Cuban product," Alvarez said, adding: "We make a product that is the best in the world and we must maintain its quality."
Thousands of cigars are produced daily and then sold worldwide. Last year, cigars brought an income of 500 million U.S. dollars for Habanos S.A, the company that sells the exclusive Cuban cigars.
"I think tobacco is very important for our country and arduous efforts must be made to continue increasing incomes in the sector, because I know we can make more and better cigars," said the experienced roller.
There are 640 workers at La Corona factory, 280 of whom are cigar rollers. Among them is Ivan Alvarez, Jose's son.
"Apparently this profession is in our family's genes. I started at 16 and now I am 40 years old. It is still a very satisfying job and I owe much of what I have learned to my parents," Ivan told Xinhua.
Every day, this man rolls more than 100 "Robustos" cigars that later bear the famous brand Cohiba, something that makes Ivan proud of his profession.
"I feel that from my hands comes out a product that gives life to the factory and to Cuba. I'm proud to be a cigar roller," he said.
Very close to her uncle Ivan and her grandfather Jose, Sheyla Estrada Alvarez is dedicating herself to rolling the difficult "Maravilla 2" cigar. The young woman with eight years of experience is known as one of the best rollers in the factory now.
"I started so young because of the family tradition, my grandparents encouraged me and I passed a course to become a cigar roller. I began at the Partagas factory and then I came to work with them here," Sheyla told Xinhua.
With great enthusiasm and confidence, the 25-year-old girl said she produces high-quality cigars even though she is young and she treats cigar rolling as a life-long profession.
"I know I do it well and I will continue doing it," she said.H The Habanos S.A. group is a joint venture between the state-owned Tabacuba and the Spanish company Altadis belonging to England's Imperial Tobacco Group.
In 2017, Habanos S.A. recorded a 12-percent growth in global sales of Cuban premium cigars and it is currently bent on diversifying its markets.
According to data provided by the company, Europe remains the largest market for Cuban cigars, with 54 percent of sales, followed by America with17 percent, Asia Pacific with 15 percent and Africa and the Middle East with 14 percent.
Sheyla, Ivan and Jose said their hope is the industry could grow and benefit the national economy.
"I think this sector has a promising future," Jose said at the end of the interview with Xinhua.