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From the archives

India: The struggle for independence – part 2: 1931-1947

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Robert Clough explains how British imperialism was able to ensure that the struggle ended with a neo-colonial solution, where political independence masked a continuing domination by imperialist rule, and how the conduct of the Labour Party was critical to the outcome. Read more >

Monopoly: ‘the death-knell of capitalism’

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We review a new book on economics which exposes the symptoms of capitalism's terminal sickness.

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Bacardi: secret agent of US imperialism - Cuba Vive

FRFI 160 April / May 2001

Ron Bacardi: la guerra occulta by Hernando Calvo Ospina, Casa Editora Abril, Havana, 2000

Cuba Vive
Over the last two years, Rock around the Blockade has led a vibrant and successful campaign in Britain to expose the role played by Bacardi in attempting to undermine the Cuban Revolution. In September 1999, two months after launching the campaign with a demonstration that closed down Bacardi's British headquarters for the day, we attended a Eurosolidarity conference called by the British Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) with the aim of spreading the campaign to other countries. Incredibly, we found ourselves facing indifference and even censorship from the CSC – until the radical Colombian journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina silenced critics with a resounding defence of the importance of targeting Bacardi. Now his new book, Ron Bacardi: la guerra occulta [Bacardi's secret war], proves the point and provides new ammunition for those serious about the defence of Cuba.

Well-structured and very informative, Ospina's book exposes completely the absolutely central role that the Bacardi company plays in organising and financing Cuban counter-revolutionaries. At the end of it, one understands that without Bacardi, there would be no Cuban-American National Foundation and none of the utterly reactionary Miami-based Cuban exile movements that have so influenced US politics over the past decades. Not only does the book expose Bacardi's pivotal role in the opposition to Cuban socialism, it also shows how the company collaborated with the CIA to support counter-revolutionaries throughout Central America. The paradox is that for decades Bacardi has wielded enormous political influence with successive occupants of the White House, yet it is not even a US-owned company!

The first chapter of the book gives some background on the company which was founded in 1862 as a joint French-Catalan venture. Its family shareholders took its most valuable asset, its trademark, out of Cuba before the revolution and relocated it in the Bahamas. Unlike other multinationals such as Shell, Texaco or NestlŽ, little is known of the holding company Bacardi-Martini, which is registered in Bermuda: it shrouds its operations in secrecy. We know it declared a $2.5 billion profit in 1999; it boasts subsidiaries in Canada, the US, Mexico, Bahamas, Panama, Puerto Rico and many European countries; amongst its 47 plants are 24 distilleries, and it has approximately 6,000 employees. In 1993, Bacardi bought Martini-Rossi for $1.4 billion, and set up its headquarters in the tax haven of Bermuda.

Although multinationals always have a clearly defined country of origin and national base, Bacardi is an exception. When pressed, most people will say it has 'something' to do with Cuba. This is of course entirely wrong: not since 1960 have its products contained anything of Cuban origin. However, it has been a powerful political force in the US, able to influence US law directed against Cuba, of which the Helms-Burton law is the best-known example.

Bacardi declared war on the French-Cuban consortium Pernod-Ricard-Havana Rum in order to take the brand name of Havana Club. In 1993, Manuel Cutillas, Executive President of Bacardi, became concerned about the commercialisation of Havana Club both as a competitor and an export earner for the Cuban economy. Since 1960, Bacardi had completely disowned any connection with Cuba. Until 1990, labels on Bacardi Rum had clearly stated it was produced in Puerto Rico. Later, the company said the sugar that went into making the drink came from the Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico or Florida and that it was produced in the Bahamas. But references to these countries were to disappear in 1994 when it executed a 360-degree turn and declared 'we are proud of our Cuban heritage'. Until Cuba began to market Havana Club in a joint venture with Pernod-Ricard, Bacardi had had no significant competitor. In its campaign against Havana Club-Pernod-Ricard, Bacardi not only tried to lay claim to Cuban origins, it tried to appropriate the name Havana Club and in 1998 renamed the rum and coke mix it had sold with Coca-Cola for more than 30 years as 'Cuba libre'. As the French company stood its commercial ground with its joint Cuban venture, so Bacardi tried to take legal action. However, more recently, its advertising has dropped references to Cuban 'cool' in the face of international campaigns against Bacardi and the growing success of real Havana Club.

Far more sinister than its commercial operations is Bacardi's political role. The company has been involved in sponsoring anti-Cuba terrorism since 1962, when one of its directors, Pepin Bosch became actively involved in preparing the Bay of Pigs invasion. He had the idea of setting up an organisation of Cuban exiles, giving birth to the Cuban Representatives in Exile (CRE) in 1964 with its headquarters in Miami. The following year, Bacardi moved the headquarters of its US operations from New York to Miami as well. CRE was financed by the CIA from 1964 and through it sought to organise the assassination of Cuban leaders such as Raul and Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara. This activity was supported by Bacardi, a fact that was revealed when CIA documents were made public in 1975. It was at this time that Bacardi established relations with the extreme right-wing republican senator Jesse Helms. CRE was active in supporting counter-revolution in Latin America, presenting a 'Freedom Medal' to General Pinochet following the bloody coup in Chile in 1973. Later it gave public support to the assassination of Orlando Letelier, a leading Pinochet opponent, whose car was blown up in Washington in 1976.

Following Reagan's election in 1980, the US National Security Council helped Bacardi to set up the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF). One of Bacardi's shareholders, Clara Maria del Valle, whose father was involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion, is a CANF vice-president and worked closely with Luis Zuniga, who was detained as a spy in Cuba in 1974. Ms del Valle issued a letter in 1997 supporting a terrorist bombing campaign in Cuba which killed an Italian tourist and injured others. The letter was also signed by Ignacio Sanchez, a CANF fellow director and senior lawyer to Bacardi who is credited with drafting the Helms-Burton Law.

CANF was set up with the objectives of supporting the Contras in Nicaragua and supporting UNITA in Angola, as well as destabilising the government of Cuba. CANF worked closely with the likes of CIA Director William Casey, and NSC advisors Richard Allen and Robert MacFarlane. Many CANF directors are ex-CIA, whilst many of Bacardi family shareholders are founder-members or associates. CANF council members include senior representatives of the Bacardi clan such as Manuel J Cutillas, Jose Bacardi, Clare Maria del Valle, Lourdes Abascal Quirch and Gerardo Abascal. Essentially, CANF was an alliance between Bacardi and the CIA; it was completely bound up with the Iran-Contragate affair where drugs money was laundered to finance counter-revolutionary activities in Central America. Ospina shows how Bacardi has served as a conduit for funds from the CIA to mercenaries in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Angola as well as to Cuban counter-revolutionaries. Richard Allen served on the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. Israel was a principal supplier of arms to the counter-revolutionary forces in Central America during this time. This network explains how an insignificant number of Cuban exiles in Miami have had such political influence within the US.

Bacardi's shadowy commercial and political interests have led it to become one of the key forces on the right-wing of US politics. It has used its power to ensure the US maintains the illegal blockade against Cuba. Correspondence set out in the annexes of Ospina's book show CANF member and former CIA operative Mas Canosa writing to Bacardi directors saying that CANF will not stop at anything including bloodshed in its campaign against Cuba.

Mention has been made of Bacardi's role in drafting the Helms-Burton law: so naked was its influence that the legislation was dubbed the Helms-Bacardi law. Bacardi was not alone however in its sponsorship of the legislation: other multi-nationals included Chiquita Brands, Ford, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, General Motors and Chrysler, all of which have claims against Cuba for its nationalisation programme.

The whole history of Bacardi and CANF shows how the state will use private companies to support terrorist activities and that multinationals are not just entities with commercial interests, but political ones as well. Bacardi may not be a US firm, but it controls US legislators, creates US legislation to defend its interests and promotes US terrorist activities. It is a major force in ensuring that the US blockade remains in place. Ospina's book shows how important it is for us to continue the campaign to boycott Bacardi. Hopefully there will soon be an English translation.

Silvia Terreu

 

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