Saturday, September 7, 2013

The dirty rum war

By Gabriel Molina Franchossi:

FROM 1998 through 2003, the Bacardi company invested three million dollars in taking over the Havana Club trademark, in conspiracy with the Bush family.

This past June 25, Cuba and the European Union registered a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO), stating that they had been waiting for 11 years for the United States to revoke Section 211 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1998, which legalized the theft of the trademark.

A book by Tom Gjelten, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause, on the career history of the Bacardi family, exposes this incredible squandering of money. An audit demonstrated how, between lawyers’ fees, campaign contributions and expenses, the fight for Havana Club was highly expensive.

Rubén Rodríguez, president of Bacardi through 2005, wanted to get these expenses under strict control and disarmed the Cuba Group existing within the company, which coordinated Cuba-related issues.

The apologetic Bacardi book admits that, in response to the urging of his brother Jeb, George W. Bush violated international law and U.S. laws recognized by the U.S. Patent Office and the WTO, to utilize the Havana Club trademark in U.S. territory and sell supposedly Cuban rum. To a certain extent, Rodríguez distanced himself from the campaign waged by Pepin Bosch, the third president, who led the company into a hard-fought war against the Cuban Revolution, while triumphing as head of the family. "I made them all millionaires," he proudly declared in Miami.

Bosch contributed to the creation and funding of the Cuban Representation in Exile (RECE), which devoted itself to planning acts of terrorism against Cuba, and appointed Jorge Mas Canosa as group spokesman. The successful businessman wanted to put a non-family member at the head of the company, but Eddy Nielsen Schueg was opposed to this and Bosch resigned in anger in 1975. Nielsen took over the presidency and drew back from attacking Cuba. But some years later, alarmed by the challenge of the Havana Club Holdings (HCH) joint venture, created in 1992 between the French Pernod Ricard corporation and Havana Ron, once again started campaigning, at a time when HCH sales doubled in the fist four years of the venture’s operation.

In April 1995, company president Rodolfo Ruiz and Mas Canosa, president of the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), organized a banquet (at $500 per head) in the Coral Gables Biltmore Hotel, to finance the reelection of Senator Jessie Helms. This ‘give to get’ move was to place at Helms’ disposition the lawyer Ignacio Sánchez, so that he could draft Title III of the Helms-Burton Act with Daniel Fisk, the Senator’s man on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

However, the Helms-Burton Act, baptized the Bacardi Claims Act by Wayne Smith, former director of the Cuba Bureau in the State Department, didn’t do the company much good; its extraterritorial pretensions clashed with European interests and forced a compromise with the EU, thus leaving many of its clauses without effect; year after year, U.S. presidents were forced to temporarily suspend the effects of Title III.

That fall, Bacardi loaded 16 crates of rum from its distillery in Nassau and marketed them in the United States with Havana Club labels. But in 1996, the French-Cuban HCH won a claim against Bacardi-Martini in a New York court, for violating a trademark registered by Cuba and approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1976.

Bacardi continued with its plan in 1997, buying the Havana Club franchise from the Arechabala family for $1.025 million. In real terms, this family had lost it in 1974, given that it did not renew its registration of the trademark or produce rum for 30 years. Nevertheless, Bacardi lawyers fixed their sights on abstracting their case from the 1928 Trademark Act, and had Congress approve a new bill, with retroactive effect, to deactivate the 1976 registration made by Havana Club to sell genuine Cuban rum. They used senators such as Connie Mack and Robert Graham, and Congress members IIeana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Díaz-Balart, to add an amendment to the 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Act’s controversial Section 211 on the National Budget.

The illegitimate amendment allowed them to get around the U.S. Trademark Act when Judge Shira Scheindling, of the Southern District of New York, approved the Bacardi claim. But Havana Club Holdings succeeded in having the European Union and the WTO question the anomalous inclusion at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), which did not cancel the registration of the Havana Club trademark as Bacardi sought via the amendment. But under pressure from Bush, the PTO invalidated its own decision.

The spurious George W. Bush administration, which won the 2000 elections over Albert Gore through fraudulent voting in Florida, was grateful and rewarded the Miami mafia and Bacardi, among other benefits, the denial of Cuba’s right to continue paying for the registration of the Havana Club rum trademark in the United States.

In October 2002, The Washington Post published email messages supplied by the Florida Democratic Party, revealing how the then governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, made the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office change its position in favor of Bacardi.

When the PTO attempted to act in accordance with the law, Jorge Rodríguez Márquez, vice president of Bacardi, sent a brazen note to Jeb Bush, "Somebody has to tell the Patent Office to stop interfering," he demanded.

In response, Governor Jeb Bush replied on April 23, 2002, that his brother, the President, had appointed former Congressman James Rogan to supervise the PTO; and instructed Rodríguez to draft a letter to Rogan asking for "prompt and decisive action in favor of Bacardi," which he would sign. The letter, duly drafted by Rodríguez and signed by Bush, ordered an end to the dispossession immediately; as was carried out. The process revealed the high degree of complicity on the part of the Bush clan with corrupt individuals in Washington such as Congress members Tom De Lay and his colleagues Mel Martínez, Díaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen, funded by Bacardi.

The Post also reported on December 4, that Rodríguez Márquez had spent five million dollars since 1998, paying Congress members, and another $2.2 million hiring lobbyists.

Bacardi admitted to having used corporate funds to pay electoral campaign costs in Texas to the leader of the Republican majority, Tom De Lay. The company was fined a mere $750, despite demonstrating its involvement.
In 2002, the EU filed a lawsuit against this second Bacardi Act, and the WTO Arbitration Committee ruled that parts of Section 211 were in violation of the commercial commitments of the United States and needed to be amended by Congress in order to bring them into line with WTO regulations. Thus the United States was urged to adapt them within a reasonable amount of time, as they were in violation of accorded regulations in the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.

The EU plaintiff agreed to give the U.S. more time to abide by this ruling, on various occasions. Thus, in 2004, Congress was presented with a bill on respect for trademarks, signed by legislators from both parties and supported by the National Foreign Trade Council, but the attempt was derailed by the very same legislators with identical bribes.

In July 2005, Europe and the Bush administration agreed, behind Cuba’s back, not to set a deadline for the United States to meet its WTO obligations; they agreed to abstain from asking the Solution of Differences body authorization to suspend concessions to the U.S. at this stage, until, at "some future date" they should decide to so. This understanding facilitated delaying the dispute for an indefinite period.

In this year’s hearing, European diplomats stated that it is time for the U.S. to resolve the issue and the Americans responded that a draft bill is in the hands of legislators in Washington to find a solution. They were informed that 11 years is more than enough time to adapt the regulation. But the 50-plus years of cold war against Cuba have broken the principles of the market economy which sustains this country’s ideology.

The dirty tricks of the Bush brothers and their protagonists in this rum war: Lincoln Díaz-Balart, Mel Martínez, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Tom De Lay and Jack Abramoff are among the more aggressive actors in the dirty war which Washington has insisted on maintaining. Given their corrupted and underhand nature, they constitute a 21st century Watergate. The pro-Batista Congress members of today are playing the same role as Nixon’s band of gangsters: Rolando Martínez, Virgilio González and Bernard Baker, together with Howard L. Hunt, James Mc Cord and Frank Sturgis.

To whom does President Obama have a debt of gratitude?
September 06, 2013