Thursday, October 31, 2019

Open Letter to Anne Ewbank regarding Atlas Obscura's article on Bacardi and Bay of Pigs Veterans

Dear Ms. Ewbank of Atlas Obscura,

Writing to express my disappointment in your October 31, 2019 article "Bacardi’s Head Honcho Once Tried to Bomb Castro’s Cuba" that sought to paint the history of the Bacardi family in a negative slant, and uses the slanders of the Castro dictatorship against the courageous volunteers who risked life and limb in April of 1961 when they tried to free their homeland from communist rule.

Two generations of the Bacardi family fought for Cuban independence with one family member fighting alongside General Antonio Maceo. During the Republic the family not only had enlightened business practices, but also engaged in civic activities that promoted a democratic culture. It is not an understatement to say that to understand Cuban history one must know the role played by Bacardi.

Emilio Bacardi: Rebel who fought for independence
In your article you making passing reference to Tom Gjelten's book, Bacardi and The Long Fight for Cuba :The Biography of a Cause.  It deserves more attention. Gjelten is a journalist for National Public RadioA 2008 review of the book in The New York Times by Randy Kennedy touched on an important figure in the Bacardi family.
Emilio Bacardi Moreau, especially, comes to life as the book’s most powerful character, though one so strange that Gabriel García Márquez might have invented him. Emilio was imprisoned twice by Spain off the coast of Morocco for his revolutionary activities. But he still managed to hold the company together, to serve as Santiago’s mayor during the unsettled years of the American occupation, to help found a salon called the Victor Hugo Freethinker Group, to practice theosophy in a predominantly Catholic country and to track down a genuine mummy on a trip to Egypt, which he bought as the centerpiece for a museum he had founded in San­tiago. (Modest he was not; he signed his revolutionary correspondence with the name Phocion, after the Athenian statesman known as “the good.”)
His son Emilio Bacardi Lay actively took part in Cuba's war of independence. In 1895, he was a field officer for Gen. Antonio Maceo during the invasion of Cuba by independence forces. He reached the rank of colonel by the age of 22. He fled Cuba in 1961 due to the Castro regime. Bacardi Imports, Inc., re-established its headquarters in Miami in 1963 after having been based for a century in Santiago de Cuba. Emilio Bacardi Lay died in exile in Miami on October 14, 1972 at the age of 95 and was the last surviving ranking officer of Cuba's war of independence with Spain. This founding father of Cuba is buried in Miami.

Emilio Bacardi Lay
The Bacardi family tradition, which you make light of in your essay, is one of public service and steadfast defense of democracy against tyranny that stretches back 151 years. Each time that dictatorship arose in Cuba under Machado (1927-1933), Batista (1952-1959) and the Castros (1959-present) the Bacardis played an important role in the democratic resistance. 

They have continued this tradition and recognized the life and work of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and in 2017 that of his daughter, Rosa María Payá. They are now supporting the Cuba Decide initiative to push for a democratic transition in Cuba.

There are two traditions competing for control in Cuba. One tradition, embodied by the Castro regime and prior dictatorships, is based on violence and the destruction or subjugation of the other has dominated Cuba's political discourse for six decades. It views dissent as treason and demands unanimity. 

The second tradition that built the institutions of Cuban democracy in the 19th Century using civic means, that founded companies with a social conscience was represented by Bacardi, in Cuba. This Cuban company, now in the diaspora, continues to contribute to the common good fighting for freedom using all means at their disposal. This tradition on the international scene, embodied by Cuban democrats played an important role in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Making light of this democratic tradition only serves to empower the dictatorship, and is a disservice to Cuban democrats and the many who have been killed resisting or fleeing the dictatorship over the past six decades.

This letter is not meant to attack you, the author, or your publication, but express the disappointment and anguish that such a well written article would regurgitate talking points of a six decade old dictatorship. It also serves to provide links and videos that present a factual history that too many have overlooked.

Pray that you revisit this history and take a closer look at Cuba's democratic tradition and give it a fairer shake.


John Suarez

This Film Used To Be About Rum from MEL Films on Vimeo.

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