If you like cigars, you may enjoy this piece. If you do not like cigars, you may agree with some of the points I make. If you invest in nickel, you may have a contrary opinion. Let me know either way.

In the US, Cuban cigars are contraband. Whenever somebody smuggled some in we would sit overlooking the hills, valleys, and oceans of Southern California and smoke them with the delight of schoolboys behind the locker room. In Vancouver two shops down from the InfoMine offices is a store specializing in Cuban cigars. Occasionally I will splurge to savor the rare taste. But when I do so, I wonder if this is a moral thing to do. My conscience bothers me; is it right to enjoy the fruits of the labors of a prison population under the control of a repressive regime?

Now Canada is full of people who brag about spending their holidays in Cuba. I have protested to them that this is immoral, but they tell me they go not to alleviate the political repression, but to enjoy the music and the beaches. To me this is like claiming to read Playboy only for the articles. [Incidentally, the latest issue of Playboy has a fine article on coal miners-I recommend it.] So to them, the only reprehensible issue associated with smoking Cuban cigars is the health issue-no moral qualms at all.

I disagree with the US approach of forbidding me to do something I like, it seems sort of un-American, but I do support some form of disapprobation of an immoral regime. After all, the world boycotted South Africa at the height of the apartheid regime. I lived there and we knew what the world felt, and we grieved that we were so powerless: an English minority caught in the clash of Afrikaner and Black nationalism. The Canadians had no qualms telling us South African what we were doing wrong. Why so acquiescent regarding Cuba?

I note in a 19 April 2006 news release this bit of information:

Cuba, among the world's largest nickel and cobalt producers, has launched a program with Canadian mining firm Sherritt International Corp. (TSX:S) to increase output by about half to 49,000 tonnes annually, state media said Wednesday. The government's Cubaniquel and Sherritt are now in the "construction phase" of their expanded production program at the Moa mining facility in the eastern province of Holguin, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported. The daily quoted Cuban Basic Industries Minister Yadira Garcia as saying that the expanded production program was "the toughest goal the Canadians and the Cubans have faced" in the mining program. According to Cuban figures released when the plan was announced a year ago, the expansion will increase nickel and cobalt production at the plant by around 50 per cent, from about 35,000 tonnes in 2004. The US$450-million expansion project was announced in Havana in March 2005 by Cuban President Fidel Castro and Sherritt International President Ian Delaney.
The Sherritt website notes "Sherritt is proud to have been chosen as one of Canada's Best 50 Corporate Citizens in 2006..." and "Sherritt's Metals business mines, processes, and refines commodity nickel and cobalt for sale worldwide with mining operations and associated processing facilities in Moa, Cuba; refining facilities in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta; and international marketing and sales operations."

I do hope they will forgive me for quoting here this piece from their website, but it sort of explains why I have different ways of smoking Cuban cigars in the US as compared to Canada. From the Toronto Globe and Mail, 10th July 2006:

The Bush administration vowed Monday to crack down on nickel exports from Cuba, at least half of which are accounted for by Canada's Sherritt International Corp., alleging that the money from the sales is being "diverted to maintain the regime's repressive security apparatus." But Sherritt's chairman, Ian Delaney, immediately labeled the proposed actions as "nothing new" and said that the continuing U.S. embargo on the Communist nation is simply "nonsense." With an eye on Florida's vote-rich Cuban-American community, President George W. Bush said he would go ahead with recommendations of a special government-appointed group known as the Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba. The commission called for a range of policies aimed at strangling the regime of President Fidel Castro, including the expenditure of $80-million (U.S.) to assist political opposition and make it more difficult to provide humanitarian aid and remittances to Cubans.
The report specifically calls for a crackdown on nickel exports, which it says now account for "nearly half of the regime's current foreign income." "The revenue from these sales does not go to benefit the Cuban people, but is diverted to maintain the regime's repressive security apparatus and fund Castro's interventionist and destabilizing policies in other countries in the hemisphere," the report said. Nickel prices are near all-time highs on world commodity markets, making them an increasingly valuable export.
Sherritt operates a joint venture with the Cuban government that last year produced 34,000 tonnes of nickel. An expansion of the facility at Moa Bay is under way, which is expected to increase output by about 50 per cent. Sherritt also produces cobalt at the same facility and is involved in oil and gas and soybean operations on Cuba as well. The nickel is produced as a concentrate in Cuba, shipped by sea to Halifax and by rail to Sherritt's refinery in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., where it is refined into metal and then sold internationally, primarily in Europe. It is illegal to sell it to the United States, either in pure form or included in end products.
Mr. Delaney, Sherritt's chairman, said the proposed crackdown was the "same nonsense that's been touted for years. "There's always been more heat than light in this discussion," Mr. Delaney continued, arguing that the idea that Cubans are hiding assets abroad is a "ludicrous joke." "We're dealing with a country that really has the moral high ground," he continued.
Officers and directors of Sherritt, including Mr. Delaney, have been banned from entry into the United States under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.
Phillip Peters, who studies Cuba at the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank, said that what the Bush administration is attempting to do with its tougher actions against Cuba is "choosing to appeal to the most hard-line segment of the Cuban American community."
At the Cuban Liberty Council, a Miami-based group that lobbies for the end of the Castro regime, Ninoska Perez decried Sherritt as a company that is using assets confiscated by the Cuban government from their original owners and is aiding a dictatorial regime. "Obviously, they have no concern about the abuses of human rights in Cuba," she said in an interview. "They're just out to make a buck." She also said she cannot understand why the Canadian government continues to encourage companies like Sherritt to invest in Cuba.

Apparently fifty percent of Cuba's foreign exchange now comes from the sale of nickel. No need now for the old communists to prop up the regime. Although I did find this fascinating piece on the Marxist website:

Canadian readers ought to contact Sherritt International and see if there's any way that they and the company can work together in defense of the company's right to do business with Cuba, etc. Not to speak of obvious issues of Canadian sovereignty, the right of Canadians to travel to the U.S., since officers of Sherritt and their families are banned from visiting the U.S. under the terms of Helms-Burton and so on. Canada is one of the few countries to provide actual direct bilateral material aid to Cuba, by the way.

In closing, I note that the Sherritt website makes much of the environmental stewardship at their Cuban operations. No violation of the principles of Sustainable Mining here. Yet I must ask is this is an instance of responsible mining? Machiavelli would have approved. I doubt Socrates would have allowed an affirmative to his question, is it good?