Cuban dedicates world’s longest cigar to Castro as he turns 90

Jose Castelar Cairo, better known as "Cueto," has rolled one that was 295-foot long, the length of a soccer field

Published - August 14, 2016 02:06 pm IST - HAVANA:

Cuba's former president Fidel Castro  greets a girl during a cultural gala to celebrate his 90th birthday in Havana, Cuba on Saturday.

Cuba's former president Fidel Castro greets a girl during a cultural gala to celebrate his 90th birthday in Havana, Cuba on Saturday.

A Cuban cigar-maker broke his own record on Friday by rolling the world's longest cigar at 90 meters (295 feet), the length of a soccer field, dedicating the monster smoke to Fidel Castro ahead of the retired leader's 90th birthday.

Mr. Castro, who took power in Cuba's 1959 revolution and ruled for nearly half a century, was often seen puffing on his favoured, long and thin Lancero model until he quit in 1985.

“I want to dedicate this to a beloved Comandante Fidel Castro,” said Jose Castelar Cairo, better known as “Cueto", who has won the world record five times before.

Cuba awash with tributes

Cuba is awash with tributes to Mr. Castro ahead of his birthday on Saturday. Earlier on Friday, 90 people donated blood at a small school in Artemisa province in his honor.

Cueto eclipsed his previous record of around 82 meters (270 feet) with his new masterpiece, which took 10 days to roll with the help of several assistants in an old Spanish colonial era fort overlooking Havana Bay.

Cigars have been Cuba's signature product ever since Christopher Columbus saw natives smoking rolled up tobacco leaves when he first sailed to the Caribbean island in 1492.

Rolling cigars for 67 years

For Cueto, a 72-year-old who learned cigar-rolling when he was 5 years old, it is a matter of national pride for Cuba to keep the record.

“The best tobacco in the world is Cuban, so I think Cuba should keep the record for the biggest cigar,” he said, noting it was a challenging task.

The length of the cigar was verified by a British Embassy official, who said the information would be sent in a letter to Guinness World Records requesting confirmation of the record.

Birthday boy thankful for tributes

“I want to express my deepest gratitude for the shows of respect, greetings and praise that I’ve received in recent days, which give me strength to reciprocate with ideas that I will send to party militants and relevant organizations,” he wrote.

“Modern medical techniques have allowed me to scrutinize the universe,” wrote Mr. Casro, who stepped down as Cuba’s President 10 years ago after suffering a severe gastrointestinal illness.

Just after 6 p.m., he could be seen in footage on state television slowly approaching his seat at Havana’s Karl Marx theater, clad in a white Puma tracksuit top and green shirt. He sat in what appeared to be a specially-equipped wheelchair and watched a musical tribute by a children’s theatre company, accompanied by footage of highlights from his decades in power.

Delves into nostalgia

In his letter, Mr. Castro accompanied his thanks with reminiscences about his childhood and youth in eastern Cuba, describing the geology and plant life of the region where he grew up.

He touched on his father’s death shortly before his own victory in overthrowing U.S-backed strongman Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Obama gets it left and right

Mr. Castro returned at the end to criticise U.S. President Barack Obama, who appeared to anger the revolutionary leader with a March trip to Cuba in which he called for Cubans to look toward the future. A week after the trip, Mr. Castro wrote a sternly worded letter admonishing Mr. Obama to read Cuban history, and declaring that “we don’t need the empire to give us anything.”

In Saturday’s letter, he criticises Mr. Obama for not apologising to the Japanese people during a May trip to Hiroshima, describing the U.S. President’s speech there as “lacking stature.”

Not as pompous as his 80 b’day

The Cuban government has taken a relatively low-key approach to Mr. Castro’s birthday, in comparison with the large-scale gatherings that had been planned for his 80th. Along with the Saturday evening gala, government ministries have held small musical performances and photo exhibitions that pay tribute to the former head of state.

Mr. Castro last appeared in public in April, closing the twice-a-decade congress of the Communist Party with a call for Cuba to stick to its socialist ideals amid ongoing normalisation with the U.S.

Need for closer economic ties with U.S.

The need for closer economic ties with the U.S. has grown more urgent as Venezuela, Castro’s greatest ally, tumbles into economic free-fall, cutting the flow of subsidised oil that Cuba has depended on the South American country for more than a decade. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Cubans are migrating to the United States, hollowing out the ranks of highly educated professionals.

The brightest spot in Cuba’s flagging economy has been a post-detente surge in tourism that is expected to boom when commercial flights to and from the United States, Cuba’s former long-time enemy, resume on August 31.

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