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food / travel

Meet Blanca Alsogaray, The First Woman To Win Cuba's "Oscar Of Cigars"

For the first time, Cuba's prestigious annual cigar festival recognized a woman, Alsogaray, owner of an iconic cigar shop in Buenos Aires, as the top representative of this celebrated lifeline of the Cuban economy.

Photo of a woman smoking a cigar.

Alsogaray smoking a cigar at her shop in Buenos Aires

Mariana Iglesias

BUENOS AIRES — Cigars are traditionally reserved for a man's world. But this year, for the first time, a Latin American woman has won one of three awards given at the 23rd Habano Festival in Cuba.

Every year since 2000, the Festival has gathered the top players in the world of Cuban cigars including sellers, distributors, specialists and aficionados. A prize is given to an outstanding personality in one of three areas: production, communication and sales. The latter went to Blanca Alsogaray, owner of the Buenos Aires shop La Casa del Habano. She says these prizes are not unlike the "Oscars of cigars."

"It's a sexist world for sure, but I won," she said of a prize which was called "Habano Man" (Hombre habano) until this year, when the word was changed for her.

"It recognizes a lifetime's work, which I consider so important as Argentina isn't an easy place for business, and less so being a woman." She was competing with two men. "In truth," she added. "I really do deserve it."

Alsogaray opened her shop in 1993. At the time there were only two sellers anywhere of Cuba's premium, hand-rolled cigars, the other one being in Mexico. Now habanos are sold in 150 outlets worldwide. "I want to celebrate these 30 years, and the prize. We're going to have a big party," she said. The firm celebrated its 30th anniversary on May 16.

Childhood aroma

Alsogaray loves Cuban cigars, which remind her of her big childhood home in the city's Belgrano district. Her father Miguel, a pilot, smoked them, and at the age of 15 she and her younger brother would steal and smoke some.

"Boy, we'd get dizzy!" she recalls. Her children have done the same, she adds. She has two sons and two daughters, and the girls inherited their mother's taste for cigars. One, Ana, runs a tobacco shop, and the other, Lucía, while a physician, did a masters course in Cuba on cigars and now runs classes and workshops at La Casa del Habano. She teaches people how to smoke a cigar.

While most of Blanca's customers are men, she says women are learning to smoke cigars 'well,' which means, she says, "Choosing an excellent cigar, not for the label but its taste, and taking into account the moment or the occasion. You start by smoking smooth cigars, not the expensive ones. Because if you don't like them you stop. But if it's expensive, you'll smoke it all. You go from the smoothest to the strongest ones."

Cigars, in fact, helped me give up cigarettes.

Some people start their day with a cigar, says Blanca, but she prefers to start smoking a little later. Some days she can smoke three, or she may go a week without smoking one. She claims they are not addictive like cigarettes, and says that "Cigars, in fact, helped me give up cigarettes."

Photo of a person holding a cigar.

A person works in the girdling of a limited edition tobacco for the 50th anniversary of Cohiba.


My vocation

When Blanca finished secondary school, there was nothing in particular she wanted to study. She began working, hopping from one job to another, then married and had four children. Then, she decided to try to earn a living from her passion for cigars. It was the 1980s. She and a partner spoke to people in the know from Cuba, and became distributors of habano cigars in Argentina.

People had more time; they were at home.

She did not close her shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, when sales and home deliveries increased. "Consumption increased at that moment. People had more time; they were at home," she says, adding that stress also contributed: "As my daughter, the doctor, says, today's illness is stress, and the habano reduces it."

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Where Imperialism Goes To Die: Lessons From Afghanistan To Ukraine

With multilateral diplomacy in tatters, the fighting gumption of weaker states against aggression by bigger powers is helping end the age of empires.

Man walking past an anti-Putin graffiti on a destroyed wall in

Man walking past an anti-Putin graffiti in Arkhanhelske, near Kherson, Ukraine

Andrés Hoyos


BOGOTÁ — Just a century ago, imperialism was alive and kicking. Today, the nasty habit of marching into other countries is moribund, as can be seen from the plains of Ukraine.

The invasion was part of President Vladimir Putin's decades-long dream of restoring the Russian empire or the Soviet Union, for which he would resort to genocide if need be, like his communist predecessors. Only this time, the targeted victim turned out to be too big a mouthful.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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When Putin leaves, sooner or later, with his tail between his legs, this will have been a sorry end to one of the last illusions of empire — unless, of course, China tries a similar move down the line.

This isn't the only imperialist endeavor to have failed in recent decades (and it has, when you think Putin thought his armies would sweep into Kyiv within days). Afghanistan resisted two invasions, Iraq was the setting of another imperialist disaster, as was Kuwait, with a bit of help from the Yankee sheriff on that occasion. In fact, besides some rather targeted interventions, one would have to move back several more decades to find an example of "victorious" imperialism, for want of better words. Which is very good news.

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