A rum deal for all concerned

News from Cuba | Friday, 8 June 2012

by John Haylett for the Morning Star

Cuban Foreign Ministry official Maria de los Angeles Sanchez fired a warning shot across Washington's bows this week following the US Supreme Court decision over the Havana Club trademark.

The court confirmed the US Treasury Department decision to suspend registration of the emblematic Cuban rum company six years ago in line with a law prohibiting renewal of Cuban trademarks associated with properties nationalised by the revolution.

Havana Club is marketed by a Cuban-French joint venture involving Pernod and known as Havana Club International, which sold 3.8 million cases in 120 countries last year.

The trademark was registered in the US in 1976 in anticipation of improved US-Cuban relations, but the US blockade against Cuba has continued unabated ever since.

"The recent judgement against Havana Club may put the rights of US industrial property in Cuba at risk," Industrial Property Office director Sanchez told a press conference on Tuesday.

"The disrespectful attitude of the United States against the rightful owners of Cuban brand Havana Club could endanger the rights of 6,000 trademarks and 800 patents of the US registered in our country," she added.

"Cuba reserves the right as a sovereign country to act at an appropriate time."

Whether Havana would up the ante in this way, at a time when most of the world disregards the extraterritorial nature of US legislation demanding global acquiescence to its efforts to bully its small neighbour, is open to question.

However, it is certainly irritated by Washington's quixotic efforts to rewrite international law and to use its economic power to subjugate the legal rights of Cuba and its commercial companies.

Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno revealed that, over the past two years, his government has sent "a significant number of diplomatic missives to US authorities inquiring into the case of Havana Club's registration in the United States by Cuban company Cubaexport, owner of the trademark.

"It is precisely the US government that has prevented the registration of the trademark," he said, adding that the legal procedure had been marked by "deception and violations."

Pernod representative Olivia Lagache, who is Havana Club International legal director, said that the joint venture was mulling possible legal action, adding that the US ruling would have "no effect on the overall strategy" of the company.

Odebrecht USA, the US subsidiary of a Brazilian company, has already initiated legal action in the US over action taken against it in pursuance of the blockade.

It filed a lawsuit in Miami on Monday against the Florida Department of Transportation over a state law prohibiting Florida public agencies from awarding contracts valued at $1m or more to firms with trading links to Cuba.

This would affect Odebrecht USA, which has been involved in a number of large infrastructure projects in Florida.

The company maintains that the state law is unconstitutional in that foreign policy is a function of federal government alone.

Odebrecht USA asserts that it "does not engage, and never has engaged, in business operations in Cuba," while acknowledging that its parent company has "worldwide operations in more than 20 countries, including Cuba."

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the Bill into law on May 1, to take effect from July 1, in the presence of a gaggle of Cuban-American legislators and representatives of Cuban exile organisations.

Scott's willingness to dance to the tune of anti-Cuban Cuban-Americans, even at the risk of damaging a local company that describes itself as "creating jobs in Florida and helping improve the state's infrastructure and public facilities" recalls comments by Mariela Castro on her visit to the US last month.

Castro, the director of Cuba's Centre for Sex Education and a campaigner for lesbian, gay and transgender rights, told a conference in San Francisco that a "Cuban mafia" was holding the US people hostage.

"A group of Cuban mafia in the US - why are they taking away the rights of US citizens to travel to Cuba? It's not fair," she declared.

"You are millions of people against a tiny mafia of people who have no scruples. We are fighting for the rights of Cubans and the rights of US citizens."

As if to prove her case, Cuban-American "mafiosi" berated the US State Department for allowing Castro a visa to participate in an academic conference chairing a session on sexual diversity.

Castro is no stranger to straight talking, having told her father President Raul Castro that "if we don't change our patriarchal and homophobic culture" Cuba could not advance as a new society and show "the power of emancipation through socialism."

Her words and activism have helped to change Cuban government policy, where sex reassignment surgery is provided free and legalisation of same-sex marriage is under consideration.

Achieving similar change may be more difficult in the US, where she told her audience that Cuba's revolution has been growing for 50 years already, despite all the obstacles in its way.

"The Cuban people have been the victims of state terrorists, of the economic blockade against Cuba and campaigns to misinform the people of the world about the power of a revolution," she reminded them.

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