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The Caribbean: Unplugged
Just who is this man, and why is he laughing at you?
Are you a fan of Caribbean rum? Most people are. A recent survey found that eighty-five per cent of UK respondents stated they would be “more interested” in “trying rum from the Caribbean compared to rum from other parts of the world”, with 38 per cent saying they would be “a lot more interested”. I suspect an American survey would be similar. The point: rum from the Caribbean doesn't need much promotion. Or protection. Rum sales confirm this.
So what's with WIRSPA and their campaign to promote "Authentic Caribbean Rum" - so called "true rum" - and their seals guaranteeing age? Is this simply an attempt to "protect" the consumer, and promote rums from the (entire) Caribbean? Are we being threatened with counterfeit rums from the Caribbean?
Not for a second.
Not so long ago WIRSPA and the Canadian Whiskey Association colluded and lobbied the Canadian Senate with one thing in mind: to restrict the terms "Canadian Whiskey" and "Carribean Rum" to only those producers in the few Commonwealth Caribbean countries and Cuba. Period. Regretfully, this protective legislation passed - just sickening. For complete details (link to WIRSPA: Unplugged).
As devious as this is, this does raise what should be an easy quesion: just what defines the "Caribbean" and what may fairly be called (authentic) "Caribbean Rum"? I can tell you this: if you believe WIRSPA or our smirking friend above, I've got a lovely mangrove island for sale...
Part One. The Capn encounters the Badassitor...
OK, it's time to introduce the leering character that opened this article. A former rap star, basketball player, bartender and successful promoter of rum "fests". May I introduce "The Rum Ambassador" and self-appointed Caribbean rum "expert"! And WIRSPA toady. This handsome fellow, like many of the other commercial rum promoters over at the Preacher's is yet another of the "Rum... it's all good" guys. Like the Preacher, he depends on the good will of rum distillers for participation in their money making "competitions" and "fests". He too answers to WIRSPA, who has sponsored a number of rum promoting events.
Ergo the glad handing smile most such promoters are forced to plaster on their face. And be sure to note the classic politician's pointing finger of acknowledgement of presumed fawning audience members. Who may or may not exist. What matter, it's the impression that counts!
Recently, the Ambassador and I got into it over at Count Silvio's lovely and intelligent site. Apparently our good diplomat had missed the turn to the Preacher's joint. Prior to his unannounced descent into our midst, I'd just finished giving an example of how WIRSPA's protectionist and exclusionary efforts might play out. I noted that Columbia's fine Santero rums were proudly labeled both "Caribbean Rum" and "Ron del Caribe" on their bottles, and how this rum would be legally prevented from using those words in the handful of Commonwealth Caribbean countries and/or Canada.
A big thanks to WIRSPA and the Canadian Whiskey Association.
Sporting his smile and now wagging finger, our good Ambassador belched and guffawed, as he attempted to condescendingly correct me, and to promote his self-created, WIRSPA kiss ass myth that Columbia was not a Caribbean country! What!? I simply couldn't believe his chutzpah. I then realized that his seemingly permanent smile must be based on the assumption that Americans existed in an "it's all good" rum haze sufficient that they'd buy any load of crap that fell off the truck.
It did not take long to send the Ambassador packing back to the "it's all good" corral, to be reunited with with the usual suspects - the anesthesiactically sycophantic crew that gathers nightly to agree with one another. In a way, I'm jealous. "It's all good" really does represent a kind of ignorant bliss which can actually be dumbfoundingly pleasant.
But as always, I digress. Let's get to the real meat of this essay. At last!
Part Two. Defining Caribbean Rums
The (authentic) Caribbean Region
Note: the following is an edited version of my diplomatic exchange with dear Ian.
The first and most basic question is simply "does the Caribbean Sea define the Caribbean?". Answer: no more than "Rhum Agricole AOC Martinique" defines cane juice rums.
To understand the meaning of the word "Caribbean" we must begin at the beginning, namely the Carib Indians and their descendants. Indeed, the primary definition of "Caribbean" is expressed as "..of or relating to the Carib or their language or culture". Thus "Caribbean" naturally refers to the areas inhabited by the Caribs - the so called Caribbean region which includes the Carib inhabited islands and modern day countries that surround and define the Caribbean Sea. It is well to understand that the islands, seas and most of the surrounding lands are named after the Carib's and their habitations, not the reverse.
Based on this historical and cultural basis, the modern day Caribbean Islands (aka the Greater/Lesser Antilles, West Indies) make up the northern and eastern portion of the region, while Belize and the modern day countries of eastern Central America and northern South America make up the western and southern portions. In re the present discussion, both Colombia and Venezuela have named Caribbean regions of their own. Indeed, one of Colombia's 30-some departments (states) is an archepelago of islands that lie completely within the Caribbean Sea.
In other words, parts of Colombia and Venezuela lie completely within the Sea.
The northern area of Colombia is officially designated as the "Colombian Caribbean Region" (one of five official regions), which includes the Colombian Caribbean island states of San Andres and Providencia, originally populated from Barbados. This region considers itself Caribbean (rather than Andean or Incan, et al, in the southern regions). The foods, dances and music are distinctly Caribbean, and quite different than the southern, South American styles of food, clothing and music. The spanish spoken in the Colombian Caribbean region is also accented differently and is much more akin to that of say Caribbean Puerto Rico. The coastline is such that the Caribbean sea starts to encircle and deeply penetrate both countries.
But most important for this discussion of rum is this:
The rum distillers of both Colombia and Venezuela take great pride in their Caribbean culture and roots. Venezuela's gold medal winning Santa Teresa's rum website exclaims justifiable pride in being "Caribbean". And Colombia's largest distiller labels all their fine Santero rums as "Ron del Caribe" and "Caribbean Rum" (both) on their bottles, as well they should. It is only diplomatic to accept that they know of what they speak.
But we have a problem and it involves false and negative diplomacy.
The problem seems to stem from our commercially biased British friend, the "Ambassador", who in a fit of WIRSPA defending pique, wants to promote his self-created myth that the "Caribbean" is limited to either the so-called Caribbean islands and/or his favored WIRSPA countries. This is really a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. The hypocrisy of this position will be made clear. Let's start with a series of definitions.
1. To be Caribbean, an island must be completely within the Caribbean Sea. This would be the narrowest possible definition. It defies the historical (Carib Indian) basis of the term, and no one uses this definition anyway. I made it up. Based on this, Jamaica would be one of the few authentic Caribbean producers of rum, lol...
2. Only slightly less narrow would be to define Caribbean as the chain of islands defining the northern/eastern half of the Caribbean region. The so-called "Caribbean Islands". And here's where the hypocrisy starts. Our dear diplomat wants to exclude Colombia, and no doubt Venezuela as well, as non-Caribbean because they only border the Caribbean Sea. Never you mind the many dictionary and reference definitions that clearly include the bordering Central and South Amercan countries as part of the Caribbean. And not to mention the Carib Indians who populated the Caribbean regions of these sea accessible bordering regions.
Actually the chain of islands known as the "Caribbean Islands", with few exceptions, actually share their borders with the Atlantic Ocean. Fifty-fifty and for the most part, they are not "in" the Caribbean Sea, but merely border it. And our diplomat's sponsor WIRSPA is also quite inconsistent in this regard. Of the roughly 14 countries that WIRSPA promotes as producing "Authentic Caribbean Rum", three are suspect. Belize, like Colombia and Venezuela only borders the Caribbean Sea. And Barbados, and Guyana are not in the Caribbean Sea at all (both are in or border the Atlantic only). These three also appear in WIRSPA's so-called ACP Caribbean region, as does Suriname, yet a fourth country completely outside the Caribbean Sea.
Mr. Ambassador, neither you nor your WIRSPA sponsor can have it both ways. You can't include countries that border or are outside the Caribbean Sea on one hand (Belize, Barbados, Guyana and Suriname) - and - then on the other hand, exclude legitimately recognized bordering Caribbean countries such as Colombia and Venezuela - both of which include island/states completely within the Caribbean Sea!
3. A widely expressed and more common definition is "The area that lies between continental North and South America and comprises the Caribbean Sea, the West Indies, and the adjacent mainland regions of southern Mexico, Central America, Colombia, and Venezuela". Or "Of or relating to the Caribbean Sea, its islands, or its Central or South American coasts or to the peoples or cultures of this region". These broader definitions inhabit many reference texts and they clearly include Colombia and Venezuela.
There's a good reason.
The Carib Indians - the basis of the word - migrated to and lived within this region. Coincidentally, this also describes a geological feature called the "Caribbean Plate" - a tectonic plate underlying the region inhabited by our good friends, the Caribs (who by the way were cannibals who'd have no doubt enjoyed the Ambassador medium-rare, and drizzled with Caribbean style coconut milk and plantains). Especially if they knew he'd been denigrating and denying their hard eaten, er, won territory.
4. There are also geopolitical definitions that include CARICOM (the former Caribbean Free Trade Association) and others. These organizations are inhabited by the broadest number of countries, far beyond our British friend's sponsor WIRSPA's narrow interests. Indeed the ACS (Association of Caribbean States) includes almost every nation in the region surrounding the Caribbean Sea - plus - El Salvador which lies solely on the Pacific.
5. It is only fair to include public perceptions regarding seas. For example mainland Greece is generally considered "Mediterranian", as are the Greek Islands within the sea. Sweden is considered "Baltic". And so it goes. Most people, rightly or wrongly, include the bordering regions insofar as being related to the named sea. This of course follows from both history and natural migrations. If there is a sea, people will tend to cross it and populate the bordering areas. Ask the Carib Indians.
That Colombia and Venezuela, along with their WIRSPA South and Central American WIRSPA neighbors Belize, Suriname and Guyana, are indeed Caribbean is indisputable. It's really time to fold em dear Ambassador, and while we're at it admit our commercial biases and relationships.
Unlike our dear diplomat, I have no dog in this fight, and have never been sponsored by WIRSPA.
But we are now far, far afield. Let's return to the topic: simply that WIRSPA and the the Canadian Whiskey Association colluded and lobbied to restrict the terms "Canadian Whiskey" and "Carribean Rum" to only those producers in the few Commonwealth Caribbean countries and Cuba. Period. This can only be compared to the French invented "AOC Martinique" mark for cane juice rums, which has been used and abused in an attempt to imply or even accuse cane juice rums made outside of Martinique as inferior or even false. Or to the efforts of a Texas corporation to obtain and own the term of India's "Basmati Rice" for their very own.
All of these efforts are no more or less than thinly disguised efforts to protect and/or exlude competition. Of the three, WIRSPA's (and the Ambassador's) efforts are the most disturbing. Martiniques's AOC could care less if Barbancourt labels their world class cane juice rums (rhum agricole) as such, as long as they don't say "AOC Martinique" on them. Not that Barbancourt would ever dream of denigrating their own fine product by doing so. And the Texas company lost in court. But WIRSPA is serious. They really want to own the term "Caribbean Rum" and/or "true rum" and/or "Authentic Caribbean Rum" and limit it to their own small list of members.
It is just sickening.