Tobacco factory 'readers' keep up long tradition in Cuba

For nearly half a century, Fidel Castro delighted in the aroma of pure Cuban cigars rolled by expert cigar rollers at the cadence of a profession that dates to the 19th century, that of tobacco readers.

Well-known Cuban cigar brands like Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Partagas and Montecristo are sent around the world after being rolled one leaf at a time on factory floors in Cuba as readers read the news of the day, classic novels, famous quotes or fun reads.

Cigar rollers told Reuters the readers keep them up to date on the happenings of the world and entertain them as they plug along with their day-to-day.

Tobacco reading traces its roots back to 1865 when it was first used to instruct tobacco workers on the job. Still today, tobacco readers step up to the mic three times a day to read the news or a book to workers busy working on the floor.

In 2012, the practice was recognized as a cultural heritage and many here said they hope the practice continues well into the future.

Cuban cigars, seen as a symbol of opulent capitalism, are among the main exports of Cuba's fragile economy. However, Cuba is barred from exporting to the largest cigar market in the world, the United States, due to a decades-old embargo.

However, a growing market in China, as well as European strongholds like Spain and France are pushing sales to records which neared $500 million dollars in 2017.

For many rollers, the readers have become an indispensable part of their work. For some, they are a watch that sets the pace for their work. For others, they are like ministers that provide information and advice for their daily lives.