In Cuba It's Close, But No Giant Cigar

(AP) Looks like it will be close, but no giant cigar, for Cuba's stogie-rolling king Jose Castelar. The 64-year-old former world-record holder has teamed up with five assistants, using nearly 93 pounds (42 kilograms) of top-quality tobacco to assemble a 98-foot (30-meter) cigar.

Castelar set Guinness Records for the world's longest cigars in 2001, 2003 and April 2005, when he completed a stogie measuring 20.41 meters, just shy of 67 feet. On Tuesday, he said he is shooting for a fourth title.

But Castelar, who learned the art of cigar-making from an uncle at age 5, is likely to fall short this time: Guinness says Puerto Rican cigar-maker Patricio Pena crafted a whopping 41.2-meter (135-foot) stogie last year.

Competition from cigar rollers in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico is stiff but friendly, driving Castelar to keep rolling.

"I'm working to take it to the maximum," he said. "We'll be back in two years with a longer one."

Still, in a colonial fortress across the bay from Havana's main drag, his team is now crafting a cigar so long and so thick _ more than 2 inches (5 centimeters) across _ it can never actually be smoked.

Rolled for display at government-run cigar shops, it will be stored under glass, like others Castelar has made in previous years. It will take five, eight-hour days of work before this stogie is ready for unveiling on Friday at an international tourism fair, Castelar said.

Hand-rolled cigars are one of communist Cuba's signature products. The island sold US$402 million- (euro260 million-) worth of them last year, with top markets in Spain, France, Germany and Switzerland. The United States is excluded because of its trade embargo against the island.

Castelar actually prefers to smoke cigarettes, but his first assistant, Antonio Gonzalez, worked Tuesday with a thick Cuban stogie between his teeth.

Made with three, progressively darker shades of bright brown tobacco and wrapped in newspaper for its own protection, their cigar stretched across 14 long tables lined up end-to-end. Markers indicated that in 2001, six such tables were needed to accommodate Castelar's super cigar, while his 2003 edition took up eight. By 2005, the cigar needed 11.

The stogie is so long that, as Castelar calls out orders, Gonzalez must repeat them to four other men stationed at different points along the cigar, relaying commands down the chain as if the men were aboard a submarine.

"Move forward!" Gonzalez barked, when it was time to roll one way, and then, "Let's go back!"

But if rolling the giant cigar sounds hard, imagine smoking it.

"The tobacco is smokable," Castelar joked, "but we're missing someone with the lungs for it."

And maybe a blow torch to light it, too.

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