The San Juan Star / December 17, 2003
By Larry Luxner
HAVANA — The Trade Sanctions Reform Act of 2000, which allows U.S. food sales to Cuba on a cash-only basis, was aimed at helping Cuba recover from a disastrous hurricane.
Now a Florida company is using the humanitarian loophole to sell frozen daiquiri and piña-colada mix to tourist hotels in Varadero — a far cry from TSRA’s original intent.
Splash Tropical Drinks, owned by Fort Lauderdale entrepreneur Richard Waltzer, has delivered four containers of mix and has six more waiting for delivery to Cuba. Bob Guilmartin, the company’s director of Cuba sales, estimates the value of sales to food purchasing agency Alimport at $500,000 so far.
Until Splash’s arrival in Cuba, he said, tourists could only order a lime daiquiri.
“Imagine being in Nassau or Cancún and not being able to get a margarita, or being in Jamaica and not being able to get a strawberry daiquiri,” Guilmartin said in an interview in Havana's Vedado district. “Since Cuba right now is tourist-driven, this is what tourists want. Cuba is doing everything it possibly can do to improve this market for tourism. This is just one of those items.”
Waltzer declined to reveal overall sales, except to say that Splash is “a multimillion-dollar company” present in the U.S., Canada and over 40 countries throughout the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
“I’m an American businessman exporting capitalism and helping our export deficit and our U.S. economy,” Waltzer told AP.
One container of Splash frozen concentrate contains 1,200 cases, and a case — which costs $53.93 apiece — contains six half-gallon plastic jugs of concentrate made from an all-natural, fresh fruit base. One jug of concentrate is enough to make 64 drinks. Guilmartin said available flavors include piña colada, strawberry daiquiri, mango daiquiri, margarita, banana daiquiri and blue lemonade.
“We are currently in 50 to 55 restaurants and hotels including the Hotel Habana Libre, Restaurante El Patio [in Old Havana], the Jazz Café and at SuperClubs in Varadero,” said Guilmartin, who spends a great deal of his time in Cuba. We’ve sold half a container to Cubalse, who will put our product in cafeterias for the Cuban market, and to Bimbom, the Cuban ice-cream store chain. All of our success has happened in the last 90 days.”
Habaguanex alone is placing Splash products at four outlets in Old Havana: El Patio, La Mina, Café Oriente and Ambos Mundos.
About a year ago, Splash hinted that it had reached a preliminary agreement with Havana Club International S.A. to help market Havana Club rum throughout Cuba. But no deal was ever reached.
Guilmartin, who ran three daiquiri bars in South Florida before going into business with Waltzer, heaps lavish praise on Alimport and its president, Pedro Alvarez.
“Alimport has got to be the most professional organization I’ve ever dealt with, even more so than any company in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s very much a 21st-century organization. They assist you in everything you could possibly need to do business in Cuba and they pave the way for everything to go perfectly.”
Asked what Splash’s future plans for Cuba are, Guilmartin responded: “To expand into virtually every single outlet possible, from all-inclusive and boutique hotels to restaurants and cafeterias.”