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Cuban Beer Crisis

It’s not exactly the Cuban missile crisis, what with row after row of deadly longneck beer bottles aimed at America’s shores instead of actual missiles, but it’s the best bogeyman Anheuser-Busch could come up with on short notice.

I’ve been around lawyers a good portion of my life, from relatives, my work and even my wife, so I understand that in situations like these, you try any argument, no matter how ridiculous to advance your cause. But even armed with that foresight, this one just smacks of desperation and feels like it’s doing more harm than good. I’m talking about the latest salvo from A-B HQ, responding to InBev’s announcement in a full page ad in Sunday’s St. Louis newspaper that should their takeover be successful, St. Louis would remain the North American headquarters of the new global entity. In the latest lawsuit filed by A-B, they’re citing the usual complaints: an illegal plan and scheme by InBev, through a course of deceptive conduct, to acquire control of Anheuser-Busch at a bargain price (despite its record price), making “false and misleading statements,” and similar typical blanket statements. But by far my favorite grasped-at-straw is this one, as reported by Reuters:

The suit also questions InBev’s claim that it would make Anheuser’s hometown of St. Louis the North American headquarters for the combined company, since InBev has a business in Cuba which cannot be managed from the United States.

The fact is that a nanosecond’s thought would make even the most un-business-savvy person realize that Cuba’s business could be managed from the location it currently is — probably from Europe, I imagine — while running the rest of North America from St. Louis, as promised. The janitor could have told them that, with no need to annoy the upper floors of MBAs.

But if you want to get fancy, a reasonable argument can be made that Cuba isn’t even in North America, but Central America. We certainly don’t think of any country south of Mexico as being part of North America, and Cuba is at least partially south of Mexico. Even the CIA World Factbook lists Cuba as being in the “Caribbean, [an] island between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, 150 km south of Key West, Florida.” I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone suggest Cuba was a part of North America. Cuba is in between the Bahamas and Jamaica, neither of which are considered part of North America, either.

Other reports are saying the issue is that InBev somehow “concealed” the fact that they are doing business in Cuba. But that information is clearly disclosed on their website, as a moment’s searching reveals under Market Information By Country. It took me all of about 20 seconds.

I think my issue with raising Cuba is that it devalues the other arguments made in their lawsuit. The other issues raised by A-B about misleading statements and problems with financing are far more serious and material to the takeover bid. But by including this ridiculous and desperate-sounding complaint about Cuba it drags down those other arguments, making it all sound more questionable by association.

And it looks like I’m not alone. From a Bloomberg article:

The suit “seems more emotional than in the best interest of the shareholders,” Stephen Jarislowsky, chief executive officer of Jarislowsky Frasier Ltd. in Montreal, said in an interview. “Instead of simmering down and getting the best deal, they are being childish.” Jarislowsky’s company holds nearly 1.7 million Anheuser-Busch shares.

The fact that we’ve demonized Cuba, while at the same time consorted and aided an endless parade of far worse despots than Castro makes this whole argument even more preposterous. A-B has seven field offices in China (and operates 14 breweries there, with another one planned) and two in Russia (where they contract brew their beer). I mention this to illustrate that morality is not really the issue here, just the letter of the law. Neither country has a particularly good human rights record, but at least they’re not listed in the US Trading With The Enemy Act. In fact, Cuba is the only country covered by the Act. Until very recently, there were two, but President Bush removed North Korea from the list in late June. So presumably A-B International will start selling beer to North Korea from their contract brewery located in South Korea.

I say we invade Cuba again, this time at the Bay of Blind Pig IPA.



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