The Supreme Court decision concludes a dirty maneuver dating back more than 20 years.
During the 1990’s, extremist sectors in Florida took advantage of the precarious state of the Cuban economy resulting from the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the European socialist camp and maneuvered with U.S. legislative bodies in order to create obstacles and destroy Cuban economic and commercial relations with the rest of the world. As part of this strategy, the Torricelli (1992) and Helms-Burton (1996) Acts were passed with the aim of totally blockading the island.
Not satisfied with that legislation, the U.S. political machinery created further regulations affecting the interests of Cuban companies and their foreign associates, in this way also acknowledging significant financial contributions from the anti-Cuba lobby in Florida.
The most patent example was put in place in 1998, with the approval of Section 211 of the U.S. Omnibus Appropriations Act for 1999 (1). This legal aberration constituted the legal argument in virtue of which U.S. legal and administrative bodies have refused since then to renew the registration of the Havana Club trademark.
During this period, the Bacardi company, whose executives have not only operated a liquor business but also that of counterrevolution, have focused on preventing by any means – in the event of the blockade of Cuba being lifted – the sale of Havana Club rums in the U.S. market, while making every effort to appropriate ownership of the trademark.
The Cubaexport and Cuba Ron companies, and the French company Pernod Ricard, the international distributor of Havana Club, have been battling to maintain the registration of its trademark with the U.S. Trademarks and Patents Office since 1995. For its part, the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Body found against the United States in 2002 and demanded the elimination of Section 211, considering that it contradicts the principles established in the Agreements on Trade-Related Intellectual Property (TRIPS) and in violation of the national trade principles and that of most favored nation, in addition to breaking the regulations of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, to which the United States has been party since 1887.
In 2005, the European Union reached an understanding with the United States through which the EU agreed not to suspend trade concessions to the latter country in response to Section 211, but reserved the right to do so in the future if the measure remained in effect. The bloc has never done so despite the fact that in sessions of the Dispute Settlement Body over more than 10 years, U.S. representatives have never announced any concrete action to repeal the Section. The U.S. government has evidently made a mockery of the European Union and has not taken any steps to comply with the decision of the Dispute Settlement Body.
Successive U.S. administrations have not only ignored the WTO ruling, but also requests from industrial and trade associations and guilds, which have advocated the repeal of Section 211 in order to avert a potential trademark war between Cuba and the United States.
The complicity of the U.S. government has reached the point of risking the protection of approximately 6,000 national company trademarks registered in Cuba merely to satisfy the interests of a minuscule group of politicians and businesspeople, all centered around the Bacardi company.
Bacardi’s idea of selling a U.S. rum under the Havana Club trademark is simply an impossible dream. Bacardi could not commercialize a rum bearing this name when not even the honeys used would be produced in Cuba and when not even the distillers would be Cuban. Moreover, there is no geographical connection with Cuba or Havana.
The only geographical link is the illusion of Bacardi executives of restoring Cuba to a past of dependence and injustice, an illusion which has led them to spend significant financial resources and associate themselves with Cuban-American exiles with a known record of violence and terrorism.
Given that Bacardi will never produce an authentic Cuban rum in terms of quality or origin; it is a contradiction that the U.S. government is placing the interests of one company above those of thousands of others whose trademarks are registered in Cuba.
During this litigation, the Department of State instructed the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) not to issue any license to Cubaexport for the renewal of its Havana Club trademark, arguing that this would not be in line with government policy on Cuba.
Everything is clear. Granting a license for renewing the Havana Club trademark with the U.S. Trademark and Patents Office is not in line with the policy of economic asphyxiation which has guided the U.S. government for more than 50 years. The economic blockade is the fundamental principle of U.S. conduct, it doesn’t even matter if this strategy clashes with legitimate commercial and economic interests of U.S. companies and businesspeople, or with the liberties granted citizens by the U.S. Constitution.
While awaiting a breath of commonsense, Cuban and French executives continue harvesting success in the marketing of Cuban rums all over the world.
(1) Surreptitiously passed on October 21, 1998 without the knowledge of the majority of legislators approving the Omnibus Appropriations Act, Section 211 prevents Cuban titleholders and successors in the interest of Cuban nationals from the recognition of their rights over trademarks or names in U.S. territory.
- Cuba condemns U.S. disrespect for Havana Club trademark