Cigars, whisky, pistols and a Dakota plane
Another piece of our movie-like history has florished. This month, UK Cigar Scene Magazine published the anecdote of Derek Harris’ visit to Nicaragua. He became the first Joya importer from the UK back in the 70’s. During that period, President Anastasio Somoza had gained control over JDN, while also battling with the start of the Sandinista Revolution, which eventually ended his dictatorship.
Melbourne Hart (distributing company) was approached by Nicaragua Cigar Company, our factory’s name then, maker of the original Joya de Nicaragua cigars. Having sampled some, Derek placed what he described as ‘a very tidy order’ with them. Some 6 months later word came from Nicaragua that the cigars were ready to ship. However, there was a problem. The controlling government led by General Somoza was reluctant to release the cigars until they had ‘a piece of the action’.
Derek made himself, as he described it, ‘very important’, packed his suitcase and headed to the Nicaraguan capital, Managua. When he arrived, he was shown into the Presidential underground bunker, where, sitting on a floodlit raised platform, was President Somoza himself. Derek described a huge man and a very daunting character.
However, being a businessman, the ‘deal was done’ and sealed with a handshake. The President then asked Derek if he would like to go to see his cigars in Estelí and put at his disposal the Presidential Dakota. As a parting comment he warned Derek that he should sit with his back to the wall in restaurants, handed him a pistol and a box of cartridges.
Derek and his local fixer boarded the plane and headed for the tobacco fields in Estelí. When they arrived they checked and approved the cigars and sat down to a meal and a drink. By the time they had finished, it was too dark for the Dakota to take off. The President had anticipated this and had sent three Presidential Mercedes up to Estelí to bring Derek back to the capital.
He and his fixer climbed into the middle Mercedes and asked the driver if by any chance he had anything that they could drink. The driver provided half a bottle of Chivas Regal, plastic cups and some ice, and they relaxed in the back of the car as they headed back towards the capital.
Some way down the road, a car quietly slipped between the first and the second Mercedes, and another between the second and third car. Suddenly, there was a crack and a bullet whistled through the windscreen between the two men sitting in the back seat. Instantly, the passenger in the front seat of Derek’s car pulled out a sub-machine gun and shot out the tyres on the car in front. The passenger in the rear most Mercedes did the same to the second car ,and as Derek put it “they took off, driving hell for leather, and in the process, spilling our whisky”.
They drove on at speed to a local petrol station where, as Derek describes it, they managed to get another cup of ice.
Just another working day for a cigar company executive in the 1970’s.
A current photo of Mr. Derek Harris.
*The articlet has been slightly edited. Read the original text here.