Former Gov. Jesse Ventura says former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had a box of cigars delivered to his Minnesota office to keep him from complaining that that the embargo against Cuba made the cigar aficionado feel “like a criminal.”
The claim -- which Ventura says dates to when the two were both in office -- came as Ventura spoke with former Donald Trump senior advisor Roger Stone on his Ora.TV "Off The Grid" show.
The cigars, however, weren’t Cuban, but Dominican, Bush’s campaign says.
As Stone talked about an upcoming book he is publishing on Bush, Ventura shared his Bush story, telling Stone he had asked then-President Clinton about why the U.S. continued to enforce its “ridiculous” embargo against Cuba.
“At the time, I was smoking Cuban cigars. I said, ‘I hate to feel like a criminal every time I go to smoke a Cuban cigar,’ “ Ventura said. He said Bush approached him and told him “keep it down, I’ll send you all the Cuban cigars you need.”
Ventura said he was smoking the popular Romeo and Julieta cigars at the time, and went over and “jokingly tapped one in Jeb’s pocket,” telling the governor, “there’s my brand.”
Ten days later, Ventura said, “I got a box of them delivered to the Capitol building in Minnesota. I had to laugh.”
Bush has been a staunch supporter of the embargo and opposes President Barack Obama’s recent efforts to restore diplomatic efforts with Cuba, saying the beneficiaries of Obama’s “ill-advised move will be the heinous Castro brothers who have oppressed the Cuban people for decades.”
Stone suggested the alleged incident was an example of “elite deviance: There’s a group in this country that is so wealthy and so powerful and so politically connected that the laws don’t apply to them.”
Ventura says he believes Bush “wanted me to quiet up about normal negotiations with Cuba because he wanted all those Cuban votes in Southern Florida but I had to laugh in the end, because I thought, ‘Does Jeb really believe a box of cigars could buy me off?’ “
Stone joked, “Yeah, you can’t buy Jesse Ventura for a box of cigars -- even Cubans.”
Ventura joked that he had “already switched to Dominican cigars anyway” and apologized to Stone for introducing him to the cigars, saying he’s since quit.
Cuban cigars have been illegal in the U.S. since the embargo took effect in 1962, although new rules announced by President Barack Obama in December will allow more American to travel to the island and legally bring back small amounts of the coveted stogies.
Ventura, who was governor from 1999 to 2003, didn’t say where or when the alleged encounter occurred, but he has long advocated for lifting the embargo.
In the July/August 2000 issue of Cigar Aficionado, he wrote that he hated embargoes. “Sure, partly because I'd love to have easy access to Cuban cigars, but mostly because embargoes won't work."
“Fidel Castro's regime has outlived the administrations of nine U.S. presidents,” he wrote. “In the meantime the Cuban people suffer and our businesses don't have the opportunity to buy and sell with a neighboring country. And for what? Electoral votes in Florida? For goodness sakes, we have normal relations with Vietnam, but not Cuba. I don't get it.”
He added, “When I end my day as governor of Minnesota, I want to be able to go home and relax. I want to look in the mirror and know I have been true to my innermost convictions. And, of course, I'd like to sit in a patio chair and enjoy a good Cuban cigar.”
Ventura’s attendance at a 2002 trade fair in Havana earned him a rebuke from Bush.
"While I don't expect you to cancel your trip, I strongly believe doing so would be the right thing to do," Bush said in a letter to Ventura, according to a CNN report at the time. "I encourage you to consider other options as you look for opportunities to expand international trade for your state."