A report by Fred Minnick for Forbes.
Bacardi is using an atypical medium to promote its Havana Club—a play—with hopes of catching Broadway’s fancy.
Premiering today in Miami, after a preview the week before, AMPARO tells the story of 1957 Cuba through the eyes of the Arechabala family, the founders of Havana Club who were tossed out of their country.
Produced by Tony and Emmy-winners The Broadway Factor (“American Son”, “Kinky Boots”). the immersive theatrical masterpiece features actors Susana Perez (Santa Diabla), Roberto Escobar (Fuego Verde), Francisco Gattorno (Lo que la vida me robo), Hector Medina (Viva), as well as playwright Vanessa Garcia, director Victoria Collado, and plenty of Havana Club cocktails.
The Cuban government’s exile of the Arechabala family rekindled its international spotlight in 2016 when 60 Minutes covered the ongoing battle for ownership rights to Havana Club. Was it Pernod Ricard, which sells the Cuban rum called Havana Club throughout most of the world, or Bacardi, whose roots and family are connected to the original Havana Club? Bacardi sells Havana Club, a Puerto Rican rum, in the United States.
After the exile, the Bacardi family established businesses throughout the world, but most notably Puerto Rico, where the U.S. government offered subsidies for them to make rum in its territory. To this day, the U.S. government still affords Bacardi a specialized cover-over tax, reducing their costs far below mainland American rum producers.
Despite the strong business set up, the Bacardi family still feels the exile, and time hasn’t healed the wounds. In 1994, Cuba struck a deal with Pernod Ricard to market Havana Club, and Bacardi has remained at odds with its French competitor ever since.
Bacardi believes its play, AMPARO, resonates with anybody who’s loved and lost. It tells the story of the family’s Cuban exile.
For the most part, Bacardi has focused their efforts on owning Havana Club. However, throughout the past decade, the company has been increasingly sharing their exile story in an attempt to capture the social justice millennial crowd.
“In the past, we never leveraged our story,” says Roberto Ramirez Laverde, vice president of Bacardi North America. “Consumers today are looking for stories with authenticity. We have a great heritage and we plan to tell our story, to support our roots.”
While pondering various ways of telling their stories, Bacardi hatched the concept of a play in 2017. They contacted Garcia, who’s built a career out oftelling Cuban stories, to see if she would spearhead a 20-minute play in a bar. After researching the family, Garcia says she became obsessed and couldn’t “believe I didn’t know this story.”
Even though Garcia had written books on Cuba and penned detailed articles for the likes of ESPN The Magazine regarding Cuban relations, the accomplished Miami native had never heard of the Arechabala odyssey.
“That’s actually quite common,” notes Laverde. “We had people in our own company who didn’t know the extent of the story.”
Bacardi hopes AMPARO changes that, even “humanizes” what happened to the family.
They are Cuban exiles.
“This is the truth. We are reminding people and educating people of what happened,” says Gio Gutierrez, Havana Club Brand Ambassador. “People who’ve seen this play have left in tears.”
Vanessa Garcia created AMPARO. She also wrote the 2015 novel White Light, which won an International Latino Book Award.
Garcia says AMPARO is the story of the family’s entire history being erased and their heritage “stolen.”
Bacardi hopes AMPARO resonates with anybody who’s “loved and lost,” the company said, but they also have greater strategic plans for this play.
While it runs in Miami through June 1, there are aspirations to take it to New York, perhaps even a traveling version to continue telling their Cuban heritage.
“There are a multitude of stories to tell,” Gutierrez says.