On February 28, 2018, I attended a one night only showing of "Amparo" at Calle Ocho's famed Ball & Chain club. "Amparo" is the story of the original owners of Havana Club Rum, the Arechabala family. It is named after its matriarch who was in attendance to see the show for the first time along with other family members. The show was directed by Victoria Collado and was like none other I have ever witnessed. For this evening, Ball & Chain was transformed into 1957 pre-revolution Cuba complete with a nightclub scene, band, dancers, and colorful costumes from the era and so much more. It is a story of industry and innovation, tragedy and betrayal, redemption and reclamation.
What makes "Amparo" different from other shows is that attendees are given the feeling of traveling back in time and being the proverbial fly-on-the-wall as they witness key events and raw emotions while also having the opportunity to participate in select scenes. Guests are divided into five tour groups complete with a tour guide leading the way. The groups were named Guajiro, Ventanita, Domino, Exile, and 305. While all the groups view the same part of the performance in the main stage area, each group is taken into a different room to witness a very real scenario during the revolution.
I was in the Guajiro group and experienced what it was like when Cubans were told to basically join the rebellion or get out with nothing but the clothes on their bodies. Actors and actresses stood by as a revolutionary soldier shouted instructions and insults with one of the meanest glares I have ever seen. One actress took me by the hand into the bathroom where she began to explain to me that she had to take with her an embroidery patch that has been handed down through generations in her family. She began to cut into it as she cried (and I along with her—it was so real) and asked that I hide it somewhere inconspicuous on her body. We decided to use it as a wrap-around for a hair bun on her head and then returned to our place in the line. Once we were cleared, we moved back to the main stage area.
“Amparo” is also nostalgic Cuba full of song and dance, and a time when life in Cuba was simpler and freedom reigned. To see it all go from white to black before your very eyes is quite the goose bump inducer. The show ends in modern Miami where the Arechabala family, along with so many other exiled Cubans now call home.
The show is headed to New York City for performances on April 3rd and 4th and I would love to catch a flight to participate in the different tours. To say that I laughed, I cried, and I felt is short of the emotions that raced through my body while experiencing the show. Bravo!
An Interview With Paola Arechabala, Daughter of Ramon and Amparo Arechabala
Before the show, I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Paola Arechabala about the show and her family, as well as Robert Ramirez of Bacardi.
Q: What has it been like for your family, having your family’s business illegally seized by the Cuban government? What was it like for your parents?
A: Well my father has passed away, so it's just my mom and my brother and I that are alive and our children, my mom’s grandchildren. I was born and raised in Miami so my historical connection (to Cuba) comes from my parents stories, like most Cubans. I’ve never been back and I’ve never been there. I would say, devastating is not enough, heart wrenching, devastating, horrible, life altering.
Q: How did your father bring the recipe back from Cuba?
A: You know everyone asks me that question. I don’t really know. I know that everyone wants a mysterious story. He never ever really told me, so knowing my dad, he probably took a lot of it to his mind, and wrote a lot of it. But, he never told me. I don’t know.
Q: Why did the family decide to partner with Bacardi?
A: Well, Bacardi, like us, was also kicked out of their country, and out of their homeland, so we have a lot of history that is very similar. I think that it was a natural relationship. Being in Miami my father had a great relationship with the Bacardi family and he knew a lot of people in Bacardi and he thought that they would obviously identify with the story and with what happened to them. It was a natural fit for our family.
Q: You must be so excited to see “Amparo” tell the story of your family. What roll did you play in the production of this show?
A: Really more than anything I have accompanied my mom in her telling of the story. I am really excited. I know that it is going to be very emotional. I was actually talking to one of the guys from Bacardi when I got here. He said he cried this morning. It has been a very emotional journey because you put a lot of things to rest and you just put a lot of things to sleep and life keeps going, and so it’s brought back a lot of memories. Its opened up a lot of old wounds especially for my mom. The first day that she read the script she was very upset, very emotionally upset. I have a brother that died in a car accident 22 years ago and she’s always said that she doesn’t have any tears left because that was so life changing, but she wept, but with joy, too. Its retelling a story that has a lot of joy and beauty and history because its about where we came from, and because of that we are here today. But, its (also) opening up a lot of hard wounds. My mom and dad’s story was really hard. Like so many other Cuban stories (are) hard. I’ve always said that. There’s every Cuban that you meet that lived in that country at that time that was exiled from there home has that story that’s so painful. So it’s been an emotional roller coaster. We met with Vanessa (“Amparo”’s director) and Mami (Amparo Arechabala) told her her story. It was actually very beautiful. We just sat and Mami told her story and later we met with the actors and the director and through Rick and everyone at Bacardi. She just told them her story. You know like your grandparents told you their stories.
Q: What is the significance of the play being called “Amparo”?
A: Well, Amparo means protection, shelter, “Que Dios me ampare.” Mami is the solid piece of our family, so its very significant to all of us because she is very quiet. Yet very strong and she’s a woman full of grace and dignity and when you see her you will never guess her age. She’s a person that’s very real and authentic to who she is and where she comes from. I think that it’s a mix of the spirit of the story with her name connected to who she is. To know Mami when they first talked about the name Amparo I thought, she does not like to be the center of attention at all. She’s a very reserved person unless you know her well. [And] She was so honored because she felt like it tied the whole story together.
It was first going to be called something else and for various reasons we got away from that other name and it became that name and she’s right m, we were very reluctant about doing it because shes very humble and quiet and doesn’t want to be in the limelight type of person. The opposite of my father. I think it’s very telling. When we met the actors it’s like all the different pieces tied together like we had even know each other. It was really spiritual even.
Q: What outcome would you like to see from the production of “Amparo”?
A: That the story is told (so) that people hear about it. That people know the story (and) that it resonates with other Cubans all over the world who share a similar story. That the world knows how thankful we are to Bacardi and to the Bacardi family for what they have done for our family. (So that) People can feel wowed that something good came out of something so bad.
Q: How frustrating is it that after so many years the legal system has not been able to finalize this dispute?
A: Very. I think that it’s sad because Cuba continues to be able to be an imposter. To be able to sell something that doesn’t belong to them. For me its sad that Cuba continues to be able to do that. (Its) Frustrating because you would like there to be an end to something (yet) hopeful also because at least the conversation continues.
Q: Have you ever been able to visit Cuba? If yes, when and where did you stay and visit. If no, would you like to?
A: I would when its free and when poeple have their dignity and human rights and not before that.
An Interview with Roberto Ramirez of Bacardi
Q: This seems like an unusual, disruptive way to tell the Havana Club rum story, why did you chose a theatrical performance?
A: We wanted to explicitly and boldly tell the story of the real HAVANA CLUB and vividly demonstrate how the brand became an icon of empowerment and survival, which is why we chose the Amparo theatrical performance to bring our “Forever Cuban” campaign to life. Given the storied history behind HAVANA CLUB rum, we felt that an emotional, active storytelling platform that fully immerses the audience in the experience – which is what Amparo does – would be the perfect avenue to truly bring our story to life. Combining education and entertainment, Amparo allows audiences to witness and fully engage in this story of industry and innovation, tragedy and betrayal, redemption and reclamation.
Q: What is the message you are trying to send and what do you hope this experience will accomplish?
A: Our goal is to tell the true story of HAVANA CLUB rum and the Arechabala family. It is important to educate the public about the wrongdoings of the Cuban government and their business partners – Pernod Ricard – against the Arechabala family, the original owners of HAVANA CLUB rum, since their forced exile from Cuba in 1960. By the end of the Amparo performance, audience members will understand what it means to be “Forever Cuban” and what it means to taste HAVANA CLUB rum from the Arechabala family recipe – the real, authentic HAVANA CLUB.
Q: Why is it important for the brand to tell the Arechabala’s story?
A: It is important for us to tell the Arechabala story because they are the original owners of HAVANA CLUB rum. The Arechabala family’s assets were taken from them by the Cuban government, just like Bacardi, and we are helping them protect their rightful claims. This is the ultimate convergence of two Cuban families coming together to continue the legacy of this legendary brand with an authentic product and a one of a kind experience.
Q: What is your response to the assertion that the rum can’t be called Havana Club because you’re making it in Puerto Rico?
A: It does not matter where HAVANA CLUB rum is produced. Its authenticity is maintained by the same recipe, great-taste, craftsmanship, technique and passion since the brand was crafted in 1934. HAVANA CLUB rum is based on the original recipe and techniques created and used by the Arechabala family in Cuba prior to the Cuban revolution. The Arechabala family was forcefully exiled from Cuba and their distilleries seized without compensation. The recipe was then personally transcribed by Ramon Arechabala and given to Bacardi as part of the agreement between the two families.
Q: What is the current status of the lawsuit between Bacardi and Pernod Ricard? Will you continue to fight?
A: We’re still waiting for the court to rule on the motions filed to resume the case. We’re confident in our position, and look forward to proving our case at trial. We expect our court system to once again follow well-respected U.S. and international principles that do not legitimize illegal confiscations. Bacardi is committed to continuing the legacy of the original HAVANA CLUB rum brand with an authentic product. Bacardi will continue selling HAVANA CLUB rum using the recipe based on the original, which was created by the Arechabalas in 1934 and is part of their family heritage.
Q: What is the message to consumers as to why they should drink Bacardi’s Havana Club rum instead of Pernod Ricard’s version?
A: Pernod Ricard, a French company, continues to partner with the Cuban dictatorship to produce rum under a stolen name. That does not make the Pernod Ricard and Cuban government’s rum brand ‘real,’ or ‘authentic,’ it makes it an imposter. Pernod Ricard and the Cuban dictatorship have perpetuated a lie since they began their collusion in 1993, and continue to do so today. Unlike Pernod Ricard, the Bacardi and Arechabala families are not misleading consumers. The Arechabala family – the original owner of HAVANA CLUB – has entrusted Bacardi with their recipe, and the brand’s goal is to carry on this legacy with the same passion and perseverance that the Arechabala and the Bacardi families are known for, having experienced the same hardship and sharing a common goal.
If you'd like to learn more about "Amparo", please visit:
By providing your email address you will learn about upcoming HAVANA CLUB activations, get an inside look at the performance, and learn how you can experience “Amparo” for yourself.
Photo credits: World of Red Eye, Roberto Chamorro, and Juan Botero.