At first glance, the history of Tabacalera Oliva Tabolisa (known, here in the States as the Oliva Cigar Co.) appears fairly mundane. One Melanio Oliva grew tobacco and founded the company in Cuba in 1886; the company is still family owned; but, has moved its headquarters to Miami Lakes, Florida. It is what happened to Oliva Cigars in between that reflects on politics.
Aftermath of Revolutions
After Castro’s Cuban revolution in 1959, Gilberto Oliva (the founder’s grandson) emigrated to Spain (taking the family with him). Without his Cuban farms; Gilberto continued to work with tobacco but as a broker – a job that took him to other tobacco growing countries outside Cuba. This was when he decided that climate and soil conditions in northern Nicaragua where so similar to Cuba for tobacco to be grown that would equal the best from Cuba. In 1969, he began to grow tobacco in Nicaragua; but, 10 years later was again forced to relocate on account of the Sandinista revolution. Without major success, he tried growing tobacco in Panama, Mexico, Honduras and, even as far away as the Philippines.
However, changing politics allowed him to return to Nicaragua 1995 when he decided to include making his own Gilberto Oliva Cigars – initially with tobaccos imported from other Central American countries blended with the local Nicaraguan.
By the mid 90’s; the mini boom resurgence in cigar smoking that led to many start-up cigar firms was beginning to wane and the major, multinational tobacco companies had also taken up much of the slack. Many emerging makers folded around this time; but, not the Oliva family company. They had been increasing the output from the tobacco growing side of their business and were able to include more of their own grown Cuban seed leaves in their finished cigar output of Oliva Cigars.
This self sufficiency ensured their survival and, today, their premier brands are still made in Nicaragua and they have added a low end production factory in Honduras. The main production in Nicaragua is capable of rolling 50,000 Oliva Cigars every day and the Honduran output is routed through Nicaragua for re-export.
Other Socio-political Factors
The USA is the biggest market for Oliva Cigars which may explain why Gilberto deliberately arranged for his fourth child to be born there. Similar thinking may have been behind having Melanio’s granddaughter, Jeannie, run the administration from a base in Miami.