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Bacardi files FOI request in Havana Club dispute

Bacardi is seeking Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) details from the US government following a recent Department of Treasury decision to allow Pernod Ricard to renew its Havana Club trademark in the country.

Havana Club Havanista
The Havana Club US trademark dispute between Pernod Ricard and Bacardi rumbles on, with Bacardi submitting a FOIA request to the US government

In a statement, Bacardi says it is seeking “all documents, communications and files that were created, used, or maintained by the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO), Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), US Department of State, Executive Office of the President of the United States (POTUS), the National Security Council (NSC), US Department of Treasury and/or any third parties relating to the Havana Club rum trademark registration action.”

On 11 January, Cubaexport, the Cuban entity that owns Pernod’s Havana Club trademark in the US, applied for and received a license from the US Office of Foreign Assets Control, allowing it to renew the trademark registration in the United States.

While Cubaexport owns the Havana Club trademark in the rest of the world, Bacardi has been selling its own brand of Havana Club rum, made in Puerto Rico, in the US since the mid-1990s.

The group acquired the US rights from Havana Club’s founders, the Arechabala family, which fled Cuba during the revolution. The Cuban government seized the family’s rum-making facilities and personal assets during the revolution, without compensation.

The two companies have since been tangled in a decades-long legal dispute over the rights to the trademark.

Bacardi claims the 11 January decision by the US government violates Section 211, a piece of legislation that states the government will not allow a trademark to be registered or renewed in the US if it was previously abandoned by a trademark owner whose business and assets were confiscated under Cuban law.

‘Sudden and silent action’

Eduardo Sánchez, senior vice president and general counsel, Bacardi, said in the statement: “We are filing this Freedom of Information Act request because the American people have the right to know the truth of how and why this unprecedented, sudden and silent action was taken by the United States government to reverse long-standing US and international public policy and law that protects against the recognition or acceptance of confiscations of foreign governments.

“When the highest and most powerful government agencies are not transparent about critical changes in policy, the public has the right and the responsibility to use FOIA requests and other tools at their disposal to hold the government accountable for its actions.”

Due to conditions of the embargo, the Cuban government must apply to the US government to renew trademarks every 10 years.

The timing of the recent renewal follows the December 2014 move by the US and Cuban governments to start to ‘normalise’ diplomatic relations.

While the long-running trade embargo largely remains in place, Congress could vote to dismiss the embargo entirely which would enable Cuban rum to be sold in the US once more.

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