Rum and Diplomacy

Today’s post comes from National Declassification Center Archives Specialist Dr. Amanda Weimer.

Jose Pepín Bosch was a man of action.  Having married into the Bacardi family in 1922, Bosch led the spirits company now known as Bacardi Limited from November 1944 until 1976.  A Cuban patriot, he helped to emphasize the Cuban character integral to the brand identity. He also played a lasting role in Cuban politics: in addition to serving as Minister of the Treasury during the early 1950s, between 1931 through the 1960s Bosch helped to finance and procure arms for uprisings against the Machado, Batista, and Castro governments.

Bosch regularly looked for assistance away from Cuba to ensure the survival of both the Bacardi company and the Bacardi family.  He succeeded in boosting sales for Bacardi’s U.S. subsidiary, and securing a location for U.S.-based production of Bacardi rum ultimately located in Puerto Rico, saving the company from bankruptcy and shepherding Bacardi’s transition to an international brand. Initially a supporter of Fidel Castro’s revolution against the Batista regime, Bosch’s shrewdness–in moving ownership of the company’s trademarks, recipes and other assets away from the island–ensured the company’s survival after Cuba’s communist government nationalized Bacardi’s Cuban assets in late 1960.  He also supported both overt and covert action against communist Cuba, including the bombing of the country’s oil refineries and CIA-led plots to assassinate Castro himself, during which time he worked closely with the Department of State’s vice-consul in Santiago, Bill Patterson.

Bosch had cultivated relationships with U.S. diplomats for many years by that point, as can be seen in this newly-released 1948 letter from Ellis O. Briggs of the American Embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay to Robert F. Woodward of the Department of State’s Office of American Republic Affairs.  In this letter, Briggs describes a confidential conversation had with his friend, Bosch, wherein Bosch revealed his knowledge of the movement of arms previously used in a Cuban uprising to have been used in an uprising in Costa Rica.

This letter can be found in the General Records of the Department of State. Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary. Subject Files, 1945-1956. National Archives Identifier 2108781. Folder “Caribbean – Revolutionary Activities – General, 1947-1949, 1950-1951.”  The letter was declassified via FOIA case NW 42365.

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