Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba

By , February 26, 2010 1:35 pm

Cuba has been in a constant state of struggle since the Spanish crown slaughtered the Taino Indians.   Learning about the plight of Cubans since that time (over the last 500 years) is something that can’t help but evoke many emotions and thoughts about society, socialism, revolution, freedom, and justice.

I just finished the book titled “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba”.  I have to say it was terrific.  It chronicled the last 150 years of Cuba’s history from the vantage point of the Barcadi family.   Based on the level of detail in the book and the exhaustive amount of sources used to tell the story, you can only imagine it was ten to twenty years in the making for author Tom Gjelten.  The book provoked much thought and provided many “jump off on tangent” points to go back to and dive into related historical events.  I truly look forward to chasing down more detail on some of the anecdotes presented and have already done so in some cases.

I suppose the most interesting thing about Cuba’s history to me was how much has been propagandized by my upbringing in suburban Detroit.  As a youth in metro Detroit, our school system didn’t touch on Cuba much.  We’re raised to know that: #1 Castro is bad   #2 Socialism is bad  #3 Communism is bad.  We’re also told that Castro seized people’s private property and murdered people without due process of the law.  That’s it.  Then we move on to the next subject.  Heck, kids today might not even get that much of the story.  So when I read the book, I must admit that my ignorance was profound.  Perhaps my ignorance on the subject is what made this book so much more thought provoking.  After all, a dry sponge soaks up more water than a wet one.

This book starts out with talking about Emilio Bacardi (1844 – 1922) who was the son of the founder of the Bacardi company, Facundo Bacardi (1814 – 1886).  Emilio was a great man to read about.  There are so few people of powerful influence that actually seem to have a true nobility to their character, Emilio is one of these rare men.  He helped with early revolutionary fighting against Spain and was, in a way, reminiscent of Thomas Paine helping with the American Revolution.  He worked to educate himself and his daughters.  He took risks for Cuba that put his country ahead of his own life.  He was a great leader for the Cuban people and, in my opinion, should be held in much higher regard than anyone else in Cuba’s history.  This obviously is not going to happen under Cuba’s current government administration.

The next big character in the story is Pepin Bosch.  Pepin Bosch strikes me as your typical hard core authoritarian business leader.  Having worked in a large company for many years with an authoritarian culture, it was easy to understand and read between the lines of what my opinion of Pepin Bosch’s moral character really was.  There is no question that his business savvy was top notch and that he was absolutely instrumental in Barcardi surviving Castro’s revolution and the seizing of all Bacardi’s Cuban assets.  He was a brilliant man.  Gjelten’s praised him a little bit differently than I probably would have.  I think it was easy for Gjelten to see something different than me in Bosch because of the jadedness you get working for a fortune 500 company for 15 years. 

At the point in the book where Castro comes in, it’s easy to lose focus on the Barcardi angle of the book.  For me, I went off on tangent a bit because I was probably more interested in learning about Castro and this book provided a unique angle to learn that history.  Therefore, you’ll notice this post on a book review about the Bacardi family veer toward Castro as well.  When I read about some of the things that Castro did and learned of his hypocrisy it led me to a certain confirmation of some of my prejudices.  I always scratched my head about Castro sympathizers, but I did so with much ignorance about the subject.  As a US patriot, however, what I was saddened to learn more than anything was how the US was complicit in bringing about the conditions necessary for someone like Castro to come into power.

I will be honest and say that I didn’t even know who Che Guevara was.  When I read about Che Guevara my first instinct was that he was a monster.   Some of his quotes and some of his actions are completely deplorable.   In fact, I found his behavior, from the anecdotes I read in the book, so appalling that he forced me off on tangent.  I had to learn more about him before I could even carry on.  When I researched him, I found he had even more sympathizers than Castro did.  Once again, I was scratching my head with incredulity.  Che sent me researching his biography even further and I again found something that again disturbed me as a US patriot:  the US was complicit in bringing about the conditions that ‘created’ the Che Guevara monster.

While I will never be able to sympathize with the ineptitude, totalinariasim, and murder without due process that Castro, Guevara, and their revolutionary army brought upon the Cuban people.  I was, however, forced to look at things from different angles to understand the other side of the argument.  Just because their methodologies were deplorable and their outcomes were (and continue to be) a failure, I can honestly say I understand what they were fighting for and why they were so popular with the Cuban people and other oppressed peoples.  And, when I say ineptitude, I don’t mean to say that these people are dumb.  Both Castro and Guevara were smart, even genius, in certain capacities.  I find much merit in what they were fighting for in the beginning.  But, I cannot respect what they did subsequent to the overthrow of Batista.  Their ineptitude with regard to running an economy, government, and state businesses has put much hurt on the Cuban people unnecessarily.

Batista was a monster.  He was a US created monster.  He was a US supported monster.   He was puppet of Washington and as long as he towed the line for Washington, he was fed with money and armament.  If he decided to use that money and armament to extort the Cuban people and murder them and keep them in a constant state of fear, I can certainly understand why the Cuban people would hate the United States because of this.  I can understand how the conditions were ripe for revolution.

Because of the conditions in Cuba and the sentiment of the people, there was dry powder everywhere ready to explode.  And, in the beginning of the revolution, I can easily see the rallying cause behind Castro and his 26 of July Army.   What was impossible to know at the time was that Castro was a megalomaniac hell bent on dictatorial control.  This is where I first went off on tangent from the book because I needed to know the author’s bias.  You never know what kind of agenda someone may have when presenting history.   I had learned that Castro studied the ways of Adolph Hitler.   In fact, his political manifesto La Historia Me Absolverá (History Will Absolve Me) is actually a title stolen from Hitler himself.  How fitting, in retrospect, that his political manifesto title was begotten from one of the most notorious dictators of all time.   After reading Castro’s manifesto, his hypocrisy between his written words and his actions are all too apparent.  The views laid out in his manifesto are 180 degrees counter to what he did after he came into power.  I will have more posts about the sociology and psychology of Castro in the future because it’s so fascinating to look into the mind of such people and get insight into what makes people like that tick and understand how they could treat others in the way they have.

This book was a very good read.  I was riveted throughout.  It’s given me so many things to talk about and so many things to post about.  It’s also given me a bunch of assignments as I’m compelled to read so much more about Cuban history.  Researching the minds of authoritarians and megalomaniacs gives insight into the minds of everyday people and fascinates me from the standpoint of learning psychology and sociology.  Researching these hot button figures in history always leads you to find the “for them” people and the “against them” people.  When you go check out youtubes of Che Guevara, you’ll find heated comments about how he’s a killer then you’ll see the comebacks about how he was a visionary.  These types of people always ignite such passionate responses.

If you want to read a good book about the past 150 years of Cuba’s history read “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba”.  It’s a four star book for certain.

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