The Rum Dynasty: Bacardi
Bacardi Breaks with Tradition To Keep the Company and the Family Together
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96
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While hurt by Prohibition, Bacardi had an advantage over the more popular Scotch whiskies of the day, because the company was based in Cuba, 90 miles from U.S. shores. Cuba became a watering hole for many vacationers and gave fame to bars like Sloppy Joe's and El Floridita. The daiquiri was king.
Among the popular tourist attractions in Santiago was the Museo Emilio Bacardi Moreau, which was inaugurated in 1928; curiously, it had little on display to indicate any relationship to rum. The man after whom the museum was named had died in 1922, but he had contributed so much to the city of Santiago, of which he was once mayor, and to Cuba, whose war of independence he had actively supported and in whose senate he later served, that he and the Bacardi family in general were considered Santiago's "first citizens."
Today, the museum has been preserved by the Castro government, most likely because of its testaments to Cuba's earlier revolutionary history and its heros, and its pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial heritage. The museum is also a tribute to Emilio Bacardi Moreau as a man of letters and the arts, a novelist who also wrote about Cuba's history. His best-known work is the posthumously published 10-volume Cronicas de Santiago de Cuba (Chronicles of Santiago de Cuba).
For those in the United States who want to get a sense of the accomplishments of Don Emilio--which include taking the first Egyptian mummies to Cuba--and of other Bacardis throughout history, the place to go is the company's building in Miami, itself noteworthy for its architecture. On the ground floor, in what used to house an art gallery, is the Bacardi museum en el exilio. Jose "Tito" Argamasilla Bacardi, a great-grandson of Don Emilio, led the way in putting together the exhibit, which holds the only photograph of Don Facundo Bacardi y Maso known to exist. The display is a labor of love and the work of family and friends who were asked to look for relics of the family's and company's history. There is even a collection of vintage Cuban cigar bands, including a Romeo y Julieta that cross-promotes Bacardi.
The museum in Miami also exhibits the company's old ads, including one that commemorates a 1936 decision by the appellate division of the New York Supreme Court that a Bacardi cocktail (Bacardi Light, lime juice, sugar and grenadine) wasn't a Bacardi cocktail unless it was made with Bacardi rum. Bacardi lawyers had called dozens of bartenders to testify in the case, bringing them in from all over the world. They supported the company's argument, Foster writes, "by stating that no self-respecting barman would serve anything else in a Bacardi cocktail."
That battle was by no means the most difficult Bacardi ever fought, nor the most painful decision Bacardi ever made, to protect its trademark. In another indication of the prescience of the company's leaders throughout its history, Jose M. "Pepin" Bosch made a move that was provoked by revolution and that provided the company the platform to become what it is today.
Juan Prado, then the sales manager for Bacardi in Havana, witnessed the drama. In March 1957, a group of students from the Directorio Revolucionario stormed the palace of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Prado had gone up to the top of the Edificio Bacardi on Avenida Belgica after he heard the shooting. The students were routed and Batista emerged safe. Many in Cuban business society went, as Peter Foster writes, "to 'congratulate' Batista on his survival" after union leaders had done so. But Pepin Bosch, then president of Bacardi, would not, despite Batista's having sent a senator with a letter asking Bosch to offer his congratulations.
"The senator asked if Bosch would be willing to express his 'goodwill' toward Batista in an interview with one of the journalistic hacks Batista kept on the government payroll," Foster writes. "Again Bosch refused, saying that anybody who had seized power deserved to have to watch his back. In that case, he was told by the senator, the government 'could not guarantee his safety.' Bosch told the senator he had no fear; they wouldn't dare to kill him." But Bosch, whom Foster interviewed extensively before Bosch died in 1994, was concerned that Batista might seek to make life, and business, unpleasant. Batista might even expropriate the company. Bosch transferred the trademarks to the Bahamas, where they are registered to this day. It was a move that would prove tremendously valuable in enabling the Bacardi family and business to survive the ultimate enemy.
Manuel Jorge Cutillas will never forget Oct. 14, 1960. "I woke up by my alarm radio listening to a list of names.... Compania Ron Bacardi, S.A., was on it, but I didn't know why because I hadn't heard the beginning of the news," he recounts. Cutillas was then a chemical engineer for the company and a lecturer at the university in Santiago. "I immediately suspected that what we were afraid of had happened. It was the famous decree of October 14 in which all the Cuban properties were confiscated by the government."
Juan Prado was also present when Fidel Castro, the man whom Batista fled in 1959, ordered that Bacardi be "nationalized." "I guess two or three years after becoming sales manager, Castro came. I was one of the last of the inner circle that left," says Prado, who is a member of the corporate Bacardi family. "In Havana I was number two at the sales branch. So, I went through the whole process of confiscation and I left."
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