Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bacardi, and its yeast, await a return to Cuba

The company's original rum production facilities in Cuba were seized in 1960, but the company had gotten its most prized property, its unique yeast, out of the country.

At 6 a.m. on Oct. 14, 1960, Cuban national radio announced that the Communist government was nationalizing sugar mills and rum factories — including the island's most famous business, Bacardi. Cuban marines quickly headed to Bacardi's office in Havana with a one-page official document (riddled with misspellings) that gave them control.

However, Fidel Castro and his cabinet made a crucial error, and the repercussions live on in the world of rum today. They went not only to the wrong building but also to the wrong city.

Bacardi's headquarters and production facility were in Santiago, on the other side of the country. The marines responsible for seizing Bacardi had to catch a commercial flight to get there, and by the time they did, Bacardi's most valuable possession was gone from Cuba. It had already left the country, and anything left behind had been killed, completely — not a cell left alive.

Daniel Bacardi had known he wouldn't be able leave Cuba for several more weeks, according to Tom Gjelten's book "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba," and had planned the mass murder — committed by his most loyal staff — ahead of time. But the carnage was bloodless: What they killed was the company's unique strain of yeast.
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Terms of Cuban spy release irritate U.S.-Cuba ties

MIAMI (Reuters) - A convicted Cuban spy who is required to remain on probation in the United States after his scheduled release on Friday may face threats to his safety and should be sent back to the communist island, his lawyer says.
Rene Gonzalez will be the first to be released out of the so-called "Cuban Five" group of jailed agents who were arrested in 1998 and convicted of spying in 2001 in a Miami court.
Their case has been an irritant to already poisoned U.S.-Cuba relations. Havana, which hails the five as heroes, says they were working undercover to stop "terrorist" attacks on Cuba by anti-communist Cuban exiles living in Florida.
After serving 13 years of his 15-year sentence, Gonzalez is due to walk out of a federal prison in Marianna, Florida on Friday, but must serve a three-year term of supervised release, or probation, in the United States, with special conditions.
His lawyer Philip Horowitz said there were concerns for Gonzalez' safety if he stays as ordered in the United States, but a motion to a Florida judge to change the release terms so he can return immediately to Cuba was denied last month.
"His safest place is to be back in Havana," Horowitz told Reuters late on Tuesday, adding Gonzalez' wife and parents were in Cuba and he had no living relatives in the United States.
Gonzalez has dual Cuban-U.S. nationality, and the judge's denial of the motion "ignored his Cuban citizenship", he added. The other four of the five convicted Cuban spies who were deemed to have played larger roles in the operation are still serving out their prison terms in U.S. jails.
Reflecting the animosity felt toward the "Cuban Five" by Cuban exiles, Cuba-born Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen this week called Gonzalez an "enemy of America" and demanded "the most stringent monitoring and safeguards" surrounding his probation period in the United States.
"He has American blood on his hands and dedicated his life to harming our country on behalf of a regime that is a State Sponsor of Terrorism," Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said this week.
This recalled U.S. prosecutors' arguments that Gonzalez, as a member of the so-called Cuban espionage "Wasp Network," infiltrated a Cuban exile flying group, Brothers to the Rescue, two of whose planes were shot down by Cuban fighter jets off Cuba in 1996. Four men in the planes were killed.
"The Obama administration needs to take every precaution to protect U.S. security and the American people from this enemy of our nation," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
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