Rum Battle

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Havana-guide : Havana club rum bottles

Havana Club Rum

“Industrias Arechabala,” established in 1878 as “La Vizcaya” by a 31-year-old Spanish émigré, grew to become Cárdenas’ largest employer, a distinguished patron of the city and one of the most important companies in Cuba. José Arechabala y Aldama arrived in Havana in 1862 at the age of 15. The company incorporated under the name “José Arechabala, S.A.” in 1921, and although Don José became its first President, by then he was 77 years old and his son-in-law, José Arechabala y Sainz, began running the business as its first Director.

The Arechabala family lost their company, as did the Bacardis, shortly after the Cuban Revolution, as the dictatorship took control of all privately owned companies, and they went into exile in the United States. They held on to their “Havana Club” trademark for a little while, but let it slide into public domain in 1973; it only would have taken $25 and a couple of signatures to maintain ownership of the trademark.

The Start of the Battle

The new owners of Havana Club re-launched the brand, registering the trademark in 80 countries. From 1972 until 1993, a government enterprise, (Cubaexport) was the exclusive exporter of Havana Club Rum. In 1993, Cubaexport entered into partnership with Pernod Ricard, a French company, creating Havana Club Holding, which immediately granted exclusive rights to the name “Havana Club” to HCI. Havana Club International and Bacardi-Martini USA have been engaged in a fiercely contested conflict with global political effects over the rights to the name “Havana Club” for rum sold in the United States.

In 1996, Bacardi distributed several cases of rum from the Bahamas to the US under the name “Havana Club,” despite the trademark being registered. This led Havana Club Holding to file a complaint for fraud and deception of consumers. Two years after the complaint was filed, a new and specially made piece of legislation “Section 211,” was set up in the United States, retroactively forbidding registration in the United States of trademarks that belonged to Cubans before they went into exile, even when those brands were freely surrendered into the public domain.

In October 2000 the Supreme Court of the United States denied a writ of certiorari in Havana Club Holding, S.A. vs. Bacardi & Company Ltd. Having reached the highest level of the US legal system without getting a favorable decision, Havana Club Holding’s last hope for redress hung on a World Trade Organization panel decision about the validity of Section 211.

In 2001 the World Trade Organization found that Section 211 violates Trade Related Aspects of International Property Rights (TRIPS) by failing to give certain Cuban trademark holders legal recourse in US courts. This ruling is significant, because hundreds of United States companies have registered their trademark names in Cuba, where Castro has threatened not to recognize US trademarks if the US fails to acknowledge Cuban trademarks.

The US Bans “Cuban” Glenfiddich

A brand of scotch malt has been prohibited in the US – because it was matured in Cuban rum barrels. Even though it is distilled in Scotland, Glenfiddich Havana Reserve has fallen foul of American legislation, which keeps a tight rein on trade with Cuba. Sold at £60 a bottle, the luxury 21-year-old single malt is created by William Grant and Sons at its Dufftown distillery in the Highlands, 4000 miles from the sugar cane fields of Cuba.

The Helms Burton Act

The Helms-Burton trade barrier wants to punish the distillers of the single malt for wrongful trafficking, so William Grant and Sons will now export the malt to Canada. And no doubt from Canada it’s a short hop to the USA, as bootleggers discovered in the last millennium.

The Mystery of Rum

From the pirates of the 17th century to the American Revolution and onward, rum has always tended to favor and flavor mutiny. Many parched Americans went to Cuba in the Prohibition era, and what they drank there, in keeping with the ambience, was rum, typically in cocktails and often in bars favored by Fidel’s onetime fishing buddy, Ernest Hemingway.

Cuba and Florida had sealed a bond way before the sensationalized Mariel boatlift made “Cuban” synonymous with Miami. Trade between the two was occurring long before the Europeans arrived, as a result of their proximity. Florida fishermen later exchanged smoked fish for rum during Prohibition days and when trouble struck in 1868, Cubans grabbed their tobacco seeds and headed to Key West, 90 miles away.

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