Since 1962, there has been an embargo in place by the US Government against the island of Cuba.
While diplomatic relations have thawed since then, the import of Cuban rum into the United States is still banned.
US citizens can enjoy it on the island yet bringing it back into the country is not permitted.
However, there is a version of Havana Club Rum that is available in the United States, it just is not technically Cuban.
In this guide, we will look at why you cannot buy Cuban rum in the United States and the issues for bringing back Cuban rum from the island.
We will also look at why bottles of Havana Club Rum can be found in the United States, and why Cuban rum remains popular globally.
Why You Cannot Buy Cuban Rum In The United States?
The overriding reason why you cannot buy Cuban rum in the United States is due to the embargo placed on the island and the specific ban on Cuban alcohol and tobacco products.
That embargo has been placed by the US government and has changed between various administrations.
It likely hit a low point during the Trump administration which made it harder for US citizens to stay in Cuba as they were prohibited from staying in several Cuban hotels.
New restrictions announced by the Trump administration also meant that the importing of Cuban rum and tobacco products was strictly off-limits and that has remained the case since.
The embargo was initially put in place in February 1962 by the US President, John F. Kennedy due to various actions taken by Cuba’s government at the time.
Even before the embargo was officially announced, President Kennedy requested that his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, bring back 1,200 Cuban cigars proving how popular they were.
Recent changes included President Barack Obama relaxing regulations on Cuban alcohol and tobacco products in October 2016.
While Cuban rum was permitted under regular US import duties, it was still not allowed to be imported into the United States for sale and it cannot even be brought back by US citizens following changes by the next administration.
The Issues For Bringing Back Cuban Rum From The Island
US citizens who travel to the island of Cuba are permitted to purchase Cuban alcohol and tobacco products while they are on the island.
That means they can still go into a shop and buy a bottle of Cuban rum or a box of Cuban cigars for their own personal consumption while traveling throughout the island.
There is also the chance to buy Cuban rum and cigars in another country where those products are sold.
The problem comes when US citizens attempt to bring Cuban rum, Cuban cigars, and Cuban cigarettes home as they cannot bring the products back into the United States, either on a flight or importing them by any other method.
Should a US citizen be found to have a bottle of contraband rum or a box of Cuban cigars then they are likely to face a hefty fine.
That fine can range in the tens of thousands of dollars so any travelers need to check their luggage before being checked by US Customs.
Why Bottles Of Havana Club Rum Can Be Found In The United States?
To all intents and purposes, Havana Club Rum should be considered a Cuban rum.
The rum was created in Cuba in 1934 and was initially produced in Cárdenas by the family-owned company José Arechabala S.A.
Little has changed with that family recipe yet who it has been produced by since has caused issues.
The brand was even nationalized following the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
By 1993, the French-owned brand, Pernod Ricard, entered into a state-run joint venture for Havana Club Rum known as Corporación Cuba Ron.
The rum was exported globally but not into the United States due to the embargo that was in place.
A version of Havana Club Rum is produced by Bacardi, which is indeed a Cuban family brand yet they left Cuba following the Cuban Revolution.
By then, Bacardi had also purchased the original recipe for ‘Havana Club’ from the Arechabala family so began producing their version of Havana Club Rum in the United States as a Puerto Rican product.
That’s right, the reason why Havana Club Rum can be found in the United States is that it is classed as a Puerto Rican-produced rum, not a Cuban brand despite carrying the name of Havana in the title.
Due to both brands having the same recipe, there has been continuing litigation over the ownership of the brand name ‘Havana Club’.
Why Cuban Rum Remains Popular Globally?
For many Cubans, their rum is an almost spiritual core of their being.
The rum is a part of Cuban national identity and has fueled their economy alongside their tobacco products for a matter of decades.
While diplomatic relations have eased between the United States and Cuba, more interest has gone into their rum yet it still cannot travel from the island into the US.
There is a sense of forbidden fruit for US citizens with Cuban rum as it performs well globally, even without being legally involved in the US market.
As US citizens may only experience and taste Cuban rum while on a seemingly exclusive trip to Cuba or abroad on vacation.
There’s a sense that the rum will remind drinkers of being abroad on one of those trips with friends or family, not heading to an everyday bar and casually ordering it like any other rum.
However, if you cannot be permitted to drink Cuban rum in the United States then you can simply cross the border into Mexico or Canada to legally enjoy it.
Havana Club remains Cuba’s biggest rum brand and includes several variations.
These can be relatively inexpensive and used as a mixer or ultra-premium and retail for the equivalent of thousands of dollars.
Part of the appeal comes from the variation in how many rums can be ideal for sipping with a smooth mouth feel while others are best enjoyed with a mixer like a cola.
Distribution is key and the rum is exported globally yet gets as close to the United States as Mexico and Canada.
Perhaps soon enough, diplomatic relations between the island of Cuba and the United States will have thawed even further and Cuban rum can be exported across.
However, the embargo has existed since 1962 and though various administrations have changed the details, Cuban rum is not legally available in the United States.
If it is to be tried then a quick trip over the border into Canada or Mexico should suffice.
There is also the Puerto Rican ‘Havana Club’ which is likely the closest thing to legally available Cuban rum in the United States.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Can You Bring Back From Cuba To The US?
As Cuban rum and tobacco products are not allowed to be imported into the US from Cuba, you may be wondering if there is a total ban.
The embargo singles out Cuban alcohol and tobacco yet several Cuban products can be imported into the United States.
This includes Cuban artwork, music CDs, jewelry, clothes, coffee, and perfume.
What Are Cuba’s Main Exports?
Along with its rum, Cuba’s main exports are sugar, tobacco, refined fuels, pharmaceuticals, and nickel.