Family Spirits: The Bacardi Saga


305 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-921912-02-1
DDC 338.4'766359'009729




Reviewed by Peter Martin

Peter Martin is a senior projects editor at the University of Ottawa


Here’s a lively history of what may be the world’s most unusual
multinational corporation.

In 1862, Facundo Bacardi began producing rum in Santiago, Cuba. He also
produced four children, who survived to generate offspring of their own.
An emphasis on quality, as well as the intelligence (or luck) to back
the right factions in Cuba’s always-turbulent politics, produced
riches for the ever-expanding Bacardi clan. The Spanish-American War
introduced the Bacardi name to gringo drinkers. And, from 1920 to 1933,
Prohibition in the United States proved as profitable for the Bacardis
of Cuba as it did for the Bronfmans of Canada.

By the 1950s, many of Facundo’s descendents were idly rich, living
high on the dividends flowing from inherited shares. But many others
were active in Bacardi enterprises; the company was led by a family
member, Pepin Bosch—secretive, autocratic, and brilliant.

Then came Castro. The Bacardis were early supporters of the revolution,
but they changed their minds when their Cuban assets were seized.
Company and family became exiles but the trauma of expropriation
didn’t destroy the enterprise. Bacardi rum is now, by a wide margin,
the most popular brand of spirits in the world. But great prosperity led
to internal dissention. Shifting alliances, murky objectives, and
gargantuan legal costs characterized a long and ugly intrafamily fight
for control. At the end of this book, Foster suggests that the battles
are over. But are they? When Castro goes, will the Bacardis go back to
Santiago? All of them? Some of them? Bacardi is a billion-dollar company
run by a family grown to the size of a tribe; it is anomalous and its
future is unpredictable. The only certainty is that it will remain

Foster tells a good story, supported by a full index and entertaining
photographs. Still, one can detect whitewash. The Mob ran Havana in
Batista’s day, but there’s no Mafia presence in Foster’s pages.
Similarly, though the Bacardis became passionately opposed to Castro,
there’s no hint of any contact with the Miami exile militants—or the
cia. These omissions glare. Another book is needed.


Foster, Peter., “Family Spirits: The Bacardi Saga,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed October 1, 2023,