Bacardi accused of campaign to oust Castro

Campaign News | Thursday, 15 August 2002

From the Guardian newspaper UK

Bacardi accused of campaign to oust Castro

Rum company boss 'bankrolled CIA mission to kill Cuban leader'

Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles

Thursday August 15, 2002

The Guardian

The Bacardi rum company has been engaged for more than 40 years in clandestine attempts to overthrow the Cuban government by both violent and other means, according to a new book. The company is accused of bankrolling extreme rightwing groups and American mainstream politicians in an effort to remove Fidel Castro and re-establish its profitable empire on the island.

Bacardi is the world's largest rum company, with annual sales of more than 240 million bottles in 170 countries. Its history stretches back to 1862 when it was founded in Santiago de Cuba by a Frenchman and a Catalan. But behind its image of a fun drink for partygoers, is an empire that has devoted millions of dollars of its profits towards removing Castro and the current Cuban government, which nationalised its properties in 1959, according to the Colombian journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina in his new book, Bacardi, the Hidden War.

Initially, Bacardi had supported the Cuban revolutionaries of 1959, who nationalised the company along with other private industries in 1960. Other countries and private firms have since reached settlements with the Cuban government over the nationalisation but the US and Bacardi never have.

The book alleges that, in the 1960s, the then head of Bacardi, the late Jose Pepin Bosch, planned to bomb Cuba's oil refineries, hoping to create a blackout in the country and thus stimulate "a state of national subversion". His plan, and a picture of the bomber plane he intended to use, was exposed in the New York Times and the enterprise abandoned.


A more elaborate plot to kill Castro was suggested in 1964, according to documents not released by the national security council until 1998. Details of the CIA plot "to assassinate Castro, which would involve US elements of the mafia and which would be financed by Pepin Bosch" are contained in documents sent by CIA agent Gordon Chase to his superiors. According to the documents, Pepin Bosch contributed $100,000 of the $150,000 requested by the people linked to the mafia who had offered to kill Castro, his brother, Raul and Che Guevera.

Directors and leading shareholders in Bacardi were instrumental in the formation in 1981 of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) which was to become one of the main bodies coordinating efforts to overthrow Castro. It was also used as a conduit in the secret war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua carried out by the Reagan administration until the exposure of the Iran-Contra affair.

The CANF made no secret of its operations, referring at the time to its "active participation in the Central American conflict and our efforts to inform and guide those who have pledged their allegiance to the cause of a Free Nicaragua". CANF was instrumental in the campaign to keep Elian Gonzalez, the shipwrecked Cuban boy, in Miami against the wishes of his father.


More recently, senior Bacardi figures have been instrumental in the support for the 1996 Helms-Burton legislation which outlined what Cuba must do to be regarded as a democracy by the US and attain diplomatic recognition. The law made it an offence for foreigners to invest in properties that were nationalised by Castro and denied visas to the US to the directors of any firms that did so. In congressional circles, the legislation was referred to as the Bacardi bill. Leading Bacardi figures mounted fundraisers for Senator Jesse Helms, one of the architects of the legislation. In 1975, the head of Bacardi's Miami subsidiary co-hosted a $500-a-plate fundraiser for Helms which netted $75,000 for the senator.

Instrumental in the construction of that legislation was Otto Reich, who this year was appointed by President George Bush as the assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs despite opposition from the Senate foreign relations committee.

Before taking his current post, Reich worked for the firm of lobbyists employed by Bacardi to advance their aims. Reich has been an active proponent of bringing down the Cuban government and "has been more helpful than any other diplomat on behalf of the CANF and particularly the Bacardi multinational", according to Calvo Ospina.

The book is published as the Bush administration has been attempting to link Cuba to the "war on terrorism" and the US state department has listed Cuba as one of seven state sponsors of terrorism. But the House of Representatives has just voted 262-187 to relax travel restrictions currently imposed as part of the US embargo on the island and a growing number of Republican politicians, including the house majority leader Dick Armey, have called for the opening up of trade with Cuba.

A Bacardi spokeswoman said: "No one at Bacardi believes this book is worth commenting on."

Bacardi, the Hidden War by Hernando Calvo Ospina, translated by Stephen Wilkinson and Alasdair Holden and published by Pluto Press, can be ordered at

The bat brand Market leader born in 1862

· Bacardi was born in 1862 when Spanish-born wine merchant Don Facundo Bacardi Masso bought a small tin-roofed distillery for 3,500 pesos in Santiago de Cuba

· The distillery had a colony of fruit bats in the rafters, which quickly became the white rum's brand symbol. Cubans began referring to the drink as "el ron del murcielago" - the rum of the bat

· The founding family fled Cuba for the Bahamas in 1960 when Fidel Castro seized control of the company. Some 400 family members still have stakes, including 40 who remain working for the business

· The firm is the world's fourth largest spirits company and is by far the leader in rum, with about 49% of the US rum market alone. It spends an estimated $150m a year on advertising

· Bacardi's worldwide sales in 2000 were £1.8bn but the firm's main white rum slipped back as younger drinkers opted for vodkas, such as Smirnoff and Absolut

· Bacardi parted company with its chief executive, George "Chip" Reid, two years ago after a row over an aborted plan for a $5bn (£3.2bn) flotation on the US stock market

· In Britain Bacardi fell foul of the office of fair trading, which threatened a £40m fine after discovering unfair deals with drinking outlets. Bacardi executives had offered the National Union of Students £650,000 to banish rival rums from student bars

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