Emilio Bacardí Moreau was born June 5, 1844, the first born of Don Facundo Bacardí Massó and Lucia Victoria Moreau. When earthquakes destroyed his hometown and an ensuing cholera epidemic took the lives of two of his younger siblings, he traveled with the family to his father’s native Catalonia to recover from the tragedy. When it came time for Don Facundo to return to his livelihood in Cuba, Emilio stayed behind in the care of a friend from Barcelona in order that he might be educated in Catalonia.
When the young man returned to Cuba at the age of 17, he was brimming with the liberal politics that so interested him in his schooling. This commitment to political activism would stay with him his entire life, and earn him the moniker of one of Cuba’s great patriots. As heir apparent to his father’s company, he balanced this zeal for politics with heavy involvement in the management of Bacardí y Compañía. When Don Facundo retired in 1877, Emilio was made president.
One year before, in 1876, Emilio had married María Lay Berlucheau, a French Cuban woman from Santiago de Cuba. The couple had four children before Maria died in 1885 at the age of 33. After battling grief and depression from this tragic loss, he found recovery and love again with Elvira Cape, whom he married in 1887. Emilio and Elvira had four children as well.
While Emilio balanced running Bacardí y Compañía and raising his family, Cuban politics of the time engaged his attention as well. José Martí and other dissidents fomented an insurgence against colonial Spanish rule, which Emilio supported. He was arrested more than once for aiding the rebel liberation army by using his business dealings as a front to move money and communication to the fighters. Released from imprisonment in 1897, he was exiled to Kingston, Jamaica, and finally returned to a free Cuba in August of 1898.
Upon his return, Emilio was appointed by the interim American government to be mayor of Santiago de Cuba. During his tenure as mayor, Emilio built consensus between the veterans of the liberation army, the people of the city, and the American representatives in charge of rebuilding the city. After his subsequent free election as mayor in 1901, he increased electricity infrastructure and was instrumental in paving Santiago’s roads. Emilio wrote during his exile that “The obligation of those in authority is to be at the service of those who suffer. It is not for those who suffer to be at the disposition of those who command.” This creed defined his public service, and he was known to be an honest, competent, and effective manager during a time when many political leaders were corrupt.
Emilio’s accomplishments as president of Bacardi and Company were no less impressive. Under his leadership, the company became Cuba’s first multi-national corporation when it expanded into Spain in 1910. In 1922, he built a new distillery in Santiago de Cuba to answer the increased demand for BACARDÍ rum, due in part to American tourists coming in droves to Cuba to escape Prohibition. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was that he navigated the company through uncertain political times with integrity and enduring patriotism. He is still considered by many “hijo predilecto de Santiago de Cuba,” or the beloved son of Santiago de Cuba.