[LOCAL] How Don Rumbotico's international fame is slowly erasing its founders from the narrative


A Local Legacy Forgotten

How Don Rumbotico’s international fame is slowly erasing its founders from the narrative

By Marise Solis

These days, everyone knows Don Rumbotico. Savor Quality. Only the Best. Ads in warm, rich colors, and a logo featuring a well-dressed omnic. But few outside of Havana know of the distillery’s hometown roots and controversial recent history.

“Don Rumbotico was never meant to be a major operation,” says Alicia Diaz, their many-generations-great granddaughter. We sit together in a local bar, and a giant billboard advertising Don Rumbotico—Only the Best!—is visible from the window. “Back then, it really was about quality.”

Almost two centuries ago, Clara and Basilio Diaz used their savings to open a small rum distillery. It was a modest family business, specializing in small batch, barrel-aged rum. Until 2060, few outside of Cuba knew the name Don Rumbotico, but the brand was wildly popular in Havana. Alicia, like the generations of Diazes before her, is an expert rum-maker. The classic Don Rumbotico recipe is a closely-guarded family secret, and one celebrated as a Cuban favorite.

But things have changed in recent years. An anonymous financial group expressed interest in purchasing the company and distillery. “They offered us a lot of money,” Alicia says. “It could have changed our lives. But Don Rumbotico is my family’s legacy, and you can’t put a price on that.”

At first, the Diaz family refused. But then rum shipments began to go missing. When the distillery burned down in a suspected case of arson, the Diaz family was left with nothing. They were forced to sell the company for a sliver of its worth.

Now, Don Rumbotico is a worldwide brand, and its unfortunate history has been sanitized for public consumption. Basilio Diaz’s kindly, familiar visage on the label is gone, replaced by shiny chrome. The distillery has been rebuilt, but the recipes are different. “You can taste the difference. It’s not the same,” says Alicia.

Don Rumbotico isn’t the only beloved local icon to suffer unwelcome changes. The Havana Sea Fort, a historical landmark, has been protected by the Cuban government for centuries. But two years ago, it was bought by the same group who purchased Don Rumbotico and became private property. Like the rum distillery, the sea fort, too, is almost unrecognizable. Now, security guards patrol its grounds and unfamiliar helicopters traffic through its airspace, while its doors remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future.

 “The face of Havana is changing,” Alicia says. Throughout our conversation, she hasn’t touched her drink. Don Rumbotico gazes down from the billboard outside, the brim of his fedora casting a shadow across his metal face. “Sometimes it feels like we’re losing a piece of ourselves. Or maybe we’ve already lost it.”

Cuba Braces for Hurricane Fernand

By Ermando Álvarez

Hurricane Fernand swept in from the Atlantic on Tuesday, flooding the Florida coastline and heading south toward the Bahamas. The Category 3 storm is due to hit Guardalavaca by Thursday and work its way up the coast to Havana. Winds of up to 193 kmh are projected, along with substantial flooding.

Communities along the coastline are being evacuated. Hurricane Fernand is expected to cause massive damage, even inland. “It’s not a small storm,” said Governor Oriole Delgado during a press conference yesterday. “Don’t try to wait it out. Take every precaution to ensure your safety and head inland as soon as possible.”