Fla. sugar king Pepe Fanjul dreams of post-Castro Cuba.
Alfonso "Alfy" and Jose "Pepe" Fanjul were furious with the implied similarities.
No surprise that 17 years later, the two men, who along with brothers Alexander and Andres run Florida Crystals Inc., one of the nation's largest sugar growers, would be initially incensed with CBS-TV's current night-time drama "Cane"--which chronicles the lives and struggles of the scheming, cheating Cuban exile, sugar-growing Duque family.
The Fanjuls' lawyers recently went after CBS to help protect the family's public image, backing off only after extracting a promise from the network that the fictional Duques would bear no resemblance to the Fanjuls.
FANJUL'S VAST CUBA HOLDINGS
"CBS has given us assurances that it will be clear from watching early and subsequent episodes that Cane is not about the Fanjuls, and that the fictional Duque family will not reflect the Fanjul family members or its businesses," said Joseph Klock Jr., general counsel for Flo-Sun Inc., in comments picked up both by the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post.
One reason the Fanjuls and their lawyers won't take legal action against CBS: the Duques' main business is liquor--using their properties' cane sugar to produce rum--while the Fanjuls strictly grow sugar cane, and produce refined sugar for American households, which includes the well-known Domino and C&H brands, as well as the organic Florida Crystals brand.
And what a business that is.
In pre-revolutionary Cuba, the Fanjuls owned 150,000 acres of cane, 10 sugar mills and three alcohol distilleries. But after their holdings (estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $50 million at the time) were nationalized by Castro in 1959, they resettled in Palm Beach, Fla. Family patriarch Alfonso Fanjul Sr. and fellow exiles paid $640,000 for a 4,000-acre piece of farmland in the Florida Everglades, creating Flo-Sun Inc. 10 years later.
FAMILY CONTRIBUTES TO BOTH PARTIES
Today, the Fanjul empire controls 400,000 acres of sugarcane in the Everglades and the Dominican Republic, producing about one million tons of raw sugar annually with help of controversial U.S. government subsidies that come to 22 cents a pound.
The family also owns the nation's largest biomass power plant and Casa de Campo, the Dominican Republic's premier luxury resort.
Alfy Fanjul contributes heavily to the Democratic Party and co-chaired Bill Clinton's 1992 Florida campaign, while Pepe Fanjul is a staunch supporter of President Bush and the Republicans. Forbes estimates the family fortune at $500 million.
With the CBS episode out of the way, Pepe Fanjul says his family's long experience in the sugar, tourism and biomass energy sectors would make the Fanjuls worthy candidates to help rebuild Cuba once the Castros are gone.
"As a Cuban-American, I would like to help in the reconstruction of Cuba for sentimental and economic reasons," he told CubaNews. "I believe I'm in a good position to help Cuba because our company is almost tailor-made for Cuba's economic reconstruction. It owns and runs real-estate, marinas, commercial ports and aiports, free-trade zones and sugar refineries. It is also the largest renewable energy company in the U.S., producing energy from sugar prouction and other green waste. These will be key skill sets to bring to the table in an effort to grow the Cuban economy."
Fanjul added: "Our desire is to cooperate with a future Cuban government once Cuba is liberated, as long as we are allowed to do so under U.S. law. We do think the rights of private property are fundamental, and transition countries that have successfully developed have recognized this and engaged in serious restitution. How that takes place is subject to a negotiable environment."
As has widely been reported in CubaNews and elsewhere, Cuba is now in the process of revamping its troubled sugar industry to produce ethanol as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Indeed, the Fanjuls' experience running a biomass plant in Florida may prove useful as Cuba aims to establish similar facilities.
The Fanjuls' plant in Okeelanta, Fla., now generates enough electricity to power 60,000 homes while cutting carbon-dioxide emissions by 260,000 tons a year--a track record that can't be ignored by any future government in Havana.
GRANT TO HELP FINANCE ETHANOL FACILITY
This past February, Florida Crystals Corp. and Florida International University's Applied Research Center received a $1 million state grant to develop cellulosic ethanol technology.
The grant's goal is to come up with a pretreatment process that can cheaply convert sugarcane bagasse to ethanol. The study will determine the feasibility of using Florida bagasse as a feedstock for a future large-scale bioenergy plant somewhere in the state.
Florida's sugar industry now generates over a million tons a year of bagasse, a byproduct of sugar extraction.
In addition, the Okeelanta facility has been chosen as the location for an ethanol plant that will produce 1-2 million gallons of the biofuel annually. A $20 million state grant will be issued to finance construction of the plant--the first of its kind in Florida--which will act as both a commercial facility and an R&D lab.
The Fanjuls are also well-entrenched in the Caribbean tourism industry.
In 1984, the family acquired the Dominican Republic's posh Casa de Campo resort, located on 7,000 acres along the country's southeastern coast, from Gulf+Western. Long known as the top Dominican luxury destination, Casa de Campo may serve as a model for something similar in a post-Castro Cuba.
WHAT ABOUT THE FAMILY MANSION?
Regardless of what happens after Fidel and Raul are gone, Pepe Fanjul says post-Castro Cuba must create a political system that respects private property, paving the way for a smooth transition to capitalism.
Recently, the Cuba Study Group, under the direction of co-chairman and Miami banker Carlos Saladrigas, urged that any post-Castro government in Havana provide property titles for people now residing in houses and apartments confiscated by the revolution.
"I haven't studied the specifics of these proposals in detail, but I know and respect Carlos Saladrigas," Fanjul told CubaNews. "He is highly intelligent and it is good he and others are proposing different formulas for the Cuban people.
"In our view, the most important thing is not to try to figure out how to split the pie before there is a pie. Our focus is on economic development in a free-market system and helping to grow the Cuban economy once its shackles are removed. We have learned to be patient. Any country that wants to develop economically must have a liberal economic system, free markets and protection of private property."
The arrival of the post-Castro era will certainly raise questions about the fate of at least one of the Fanjuls' former properties, which, to add insult to injury, has long been used by the ailing Marxist revolutionary as a personal residence.
"One of our homes is now the Museum of Decorative Arts," Fanjul complained. "Other homes are used to entertain visiting diplomats. We understand Fidel lives in one of our houses in Marianao, and that the old polo field at the back of the house is now being used as a helicopter landing pad."
FLO-SUN HOLDINGS INC. *
* $2.5 billion in 2006 revenues
* 400,000 acres
* 10 million tons of sugar cane
* 3.5 million tons of refined sugar
* Domino, C&H, Florida Crystals
* Casa de Campo resort (D.R.)
* 5,000 acres of organic farming
* Largest U.S. biomass power plant
* 50 million gallons of molasses
* 65 million lbs of furfural alcohol
* 2.3 million crates of corn
* 50 million lbs of rice
* 25,000 employees
* Information gleaned from Flo-Sun Inc. website