Cuba Castro (copy)

Cuban President Fidel Castro speaks to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in Havana, Cuba, on Jan. 9, 2004, and into Jan. 10. Bauer is now selling cigars Castro gave him from that trip. File/Wade Spees/Staff

In 2004, then-Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer was part of a landmark South Carolina trade trip to Cuba where he met with communist dictator Fidel Castro.

When the trip ended, Castro gave members of the delegation autographed boxes of treasured Cuban cigars.

Bauer is now selling the 15-year-old Havana smokes gifted from Fidel's hand.

Bauer's box of 25 handmade Cuban cigars is being advertised on the RR Auction of Boston website as part of a 17-day auction that ends Wednesday.

Estimated value: $10,000-plus.

Bauer said the cigars had been sitting in a closet since the Havana trip, which is why he is trying to get rid of them now.

"I'm not a smoker, so they don't mean much to you," he told The Post and Courier.

Bauer, a Republican who left office in 2011 after serving two terms, said he saw nothing wrong about selling cigars that came to him as a gift from a foreign head of state.

They were gifted during an agricultural-oriented trade mission to boost South Carolina goods.

Bauer to begin campaign ads (copy)

Former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. File/Mary Ann Chastain

Bauer estimated their value at the time to be about $50, he said during a phone interview Monday.

If they increased in value since then, that is the economics of saving his full box versus those who smoked theirs, he said. 

The State Ethics Commission declined to address specifics about Bauer's intentions but did supply a copy of a 2002 advisory opinion stating officials' obligation to disclose any gift they receive at the time they get it.

It does not address the future selling of an item.

Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of RR Auction, said the most significant value of the cigars is that they came directly from Castro. Few Americans ever came in contact with Castro during his reign. That makes the South Carolina delegation's 2004 visit an important part of their back story, Livingston said.

Cuba Castro (copy)

Cuban President Fidel Castro met with a delegation of South Carolina elected officials and businessmen in Havana on Jan. 9, 2004. They were in Cuba to promote trade. File/Wade Spees/Staff

It's part of their "panache," he said. They are not considered in good smoking condition.

The RR Auction site describes Bauer's cigars as: 

"Wooden Cohiba Lanceros cigar box containing 25 handmade Cuban cigars, measuring 8.5 x 8.5 x 1.75, prominently signed on the lid in black felt tip by Fidel Castro. The corner of the lid bears a "Habanos" label, and the box is stamped on the bottom, "Habanos S.A., Hecho en Cuba, Totalmente a mano, MKO DIC 03."

Additionally it reads, "The box has all 25 original Cohiba Lancero cigars inside, famous as Castro's favorite type. In fine condition, with some irregular ink adhesion due to the wooden surface."

Bauer supplied a letter confirming the box's provenance, according to the site.

The 2004 trip was a trade mission that included a delegation of South Carolina elected officials and businessmen. At the time, it was reported they had secured a commitment from the Cuban government to purchase $10 million worth of agricultural products from South Carolina's farmers. 

The S.C. Department of Agriculture's media office did not immediately have information about the Cuba-South Carolina trip or relationship from that time.

The Post and Courier sent a reporter along on the three-day trip, who noted Bauer found Castro to be "disarming and sincere."

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Also taking part were then-Commissioner of Agriculture Charles R. Sharpe, then-state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, and executives of Maybank Shipping.

Cuba Castro (copy)

Cuban President Fidel Castro met with a delegation of South Carolina elected officials and businessmen in Havana on Jan. 9, 2004. They were in Cuba to promote trade. File/Wade Spees/Staff

Castro, 77 at the time, spoke in Spanish and showed up in his signature green military-style uniform. The meeting went on for hours, late into the night.

"I don't eat much, and I drink little. I drink a little bit of wine because it has antioxidants," Castro said through an interpreter. "I think it is very important to exercise your mind. A lot of people when they retire, they collapse. They grow old. I'm excited about my work."

The newspaper also noted, "Before Castro was whisked away to one of the waiting Mercedes, he and the delegation exchanged gifts — a crystal candelabra and cuff links with the state seal for the feisty Cuban and Cohiba cigars in Castro-autographed wooden boxes for the state officials."

Livingston said Bauer is the one who reached out to them looking to make a sale of the stored cigars.

The most likely buyer will be someone who is a collector, Livingston said, and who wants to treat the cigars like the "artifact" they are from one of the most important figures of the 20th century.

That means getting them safely into a humidor.

The most recent bid as of midday Monday for the box was $2,390, though Livingston said he expects that to go up closer to the Wednesday 7 p.m. cutoff time.

The Post and Courier report from the trip did mention Bauer trying to engage with the Cuban leader, who died in November 2016.

For instance, Bauer attempted to steer Castro toward addressing the U.S. embargo of the island and the George W. Bush administration. Castro answered with comments on entirely different topics.

Cuba Trade Press Conference (copy)

Chip Limehouse (from left), chairman of the Charleston Legislative Delegation, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, Cuba's Alimport head Pedro Alvarez, interpreter Gilberto Bengochea and S.C. Agriculture Commissioner Charles Sharpe conduct a press conference in Havana, Cuba, on Jan. 8, 2004, after they signed a letter of intent opening the door to agricultural trade. File/Wade Spees/Staff

"What I always tell American farmers is 'why should you worry'," he told him. "The thing that is in the shortest supply in the world is food."

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.