Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 6)

Without question, what I had in mind with Fake Cuban Cigars has turned into another beast (but it will all come around to Juan Penton versus Altadis again). The battle over the Havana Club trademark, and the several reports and articles I read over this unprecedented legal dispute, that has lasted for about a decade, has delayed several other topics that I wanted to comment on. But, this has just been a fascinating and enlightening research topic concerning another conflict in the disappointing history of US/Cuba relations.

The history of the dispute over Havana Club has been written about extensively through reports (Kimmerling 1999; Perry, Woods & Shapiro 2001, Swann 2002) by the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) , the WTO, and through articles from various organizations. Even an entire book has been devoted to this "hidden war" between the US and Cuba. I will attempt to summarize this story, but encourage readers to rely on the links for the detailed history. To start off, our main actors are Bacardi-Martini USA versus Cubaexport.

"The application NEEDS to be denied," pleaded Jorge Rodriguez Marquez in an e-mail to Jeb Bush's office in Washington D.C. Rodriguez Marquez was vice-president of communications for Bacardi-Martini USA at the time. He was referring to the trademark application for Havana Club that, for the moment, rightfully belonged to Cubaexport since 1976. And, this e-mail was just one of many frustrated exchanges between Bacardi and the office of Jeb Bush, revealed by the Washington Post and the Daily Business Review in 2002.

Both papers found that Rodriguez Marquez was demanding that Jeb Bush, Florida Governor, influence the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to deny Cuba's trademark application, and in the meantime Bacardi also funneled tens of thousands of dollars into the coffers of the Florida GOP. It was reported that Bacardi in 2002 alone contributed about $60,000 to the Florida GOP. "Thank you for your valuable support regarding our problems at Commerce and Treasury," wrote back Rodriguez Marquez to Jeb. From 1998 to 2002, the total contributions were about $200,000 to the Florida Republicans. In 2004, Dan Christensen, reporter from the Daily Business Review, found that more Bacardi money had spread beyond Florida in order to fight Cubaexport's application.

Christensen reported that three US House Representatives in 2002, including the infamous majority leader Tom Delay, had received Bacardi contributions (about $60,000 total) during the same time Rodriguez Marquez was pleading with Jeb Bush to influence the PTO. When Jeb finally sent a letter to the PTO in 2002 "calling for cancellation" of Cubaexport's trademark, three other letters by the three US House Representatives had already been sent to PTO's boss, the US Secretary of Commere.

After the articles, the lawyers of Cubaexport's joint partners were angered. "Bacardi's attempt to bring political influence to bear on a matter that is supposed to be decided by administrative law judges on rules of law is grossly improper. The law bars ex-parte communications," explained the lawyers.

But, like Juan Penton versus Altadis, that didn't matter to Jorge Rodriguez Marquez, he was innocent, and facing a greater threat: Fidel Castro. In one of his e-mails, Rodriguez Marquez makes it clear that Bacardi is "a standing symbol of doing things the right way," but he was growing frustrated and fearful that "Castro and Pernod are winning." Pernod-Ricard was the French joint partner with Cubaexport.

[Part 7]

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