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How Bacardi Fought Predatory Taxation in Pre-Castro Cuba



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Source of book image: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/business/21shelf.html?_r=1





(p. W6) When it comes to chronicling the Bacardi rum dynasty, the best model may be "Buddenbrooks" or some other novelistic attempt to capture the experience of a family business trying to survive across generations. Tom Gjelten's "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba" -- though fact-driven history and far more upbeat that Thomas Mann's tale of dynastic decline -- feels very much in this literary tradition.


. . .


Perhaps the most fascinating figure in the Bacardi tale is José Bosch, called Pepín, a young businessman who also married into the Bacardi family and was an early opponent of Gerardo Machado's corrupt rule in the 1920s. Machado made Bacardi, one of Cuba's most successful companies, a target of predatory taxation, but a proposed rum tax was more than the distiller could stand. Bacardi opened new facilities in Mexico and threatened to move its operations there if the tax was enacted. The Cuban legislature dropped the idea -- and Bacardi soon found itself with a Mexican distillery it didn't need, trying to sell a liquor to tequila- quaffing public that didn't want it.

Bosch was dispatched in 1933 to shut down the Mexican facility, but instead he saved it. "Noticing that Mexicans drank a lot of Coca-Cola," Mr. Gjelten writes, Bosch urged the company to promote Bacardi-and-Coke cocktails. Observing the rich tradition of Mexican handicrafts, he also suggested that the locals would be more inclined to drink rum if it was sold in the sort of wicker-covered jugs often used for it in Cuba. Sales in 1934 doubled.



For the full review, see:

ALVARO VARGAS LLOSA. "The Family Spirit." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., September 12, 2008): W6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book being reviewed, is:

Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause. New York: Viking Penguin, 2008.





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