By Mike Pomranz
June 22, 2017
© Mark Hannaford / Getty Images

It sounds like part of an American gangster story: Trying to pay your debts with Cuban rum. But we’re not talking about Tony Soprano. The barterer in question is none other than the Cuban government itself. And they’re trying to pass off their national booze to the Czech Republic – a country where Cuban rum is completely legal and therefore lacking some of its American cachet. Oh, and the debt in question is $270 million – That would be enough rum to last the Czech Republic for about 130 years. Still, the Czechs aren’t necessarily saying no. We’re talking about rum here; you have to at least consider it.

On Friday, the Czech finance ministry announced that cash-weak but rum-strong Cuba had offered to settle an outstanding $270 million debt, one that dates all the way back to the communist days of Czechoslovakia, in goods it has on hand. “The Cuban party as a possible solution presented a list of commodities … [including] several brands of rum,” the ministry said in a statement according to the AFP. Though some might scoff at the idea of paying a debt in booze, Czech deputy finance minister Lenka Dupakova reportedly described the offer as “an interesting option” – which might speak more to Czech skepticism that Cuba can repay its debts at all than to the Eastern European country’s love of rum.

From a logistics standpoint, Dupakova was specifically concerned about how the rum would sell. “These are relatively unknown brands which might be good, but we would have to advertise them and generally launch them into the market,” she said. Ah, so Cuba is hoping to pay for its debt in mystery rum! Now that’s a different story.

Regardless the Czechs made it clear that rum alone wouldn’t be enough… and they’re not talking about simply throwing in some cigars. “The Czech side believes that at least part of the debt should be dealt in cash,” the ministry was quoted as saying. One reason rum alone isn’t good enough is the fact that, in 2015, the Czech Republic imported an impressive 892 tons of Cuban rum – but it was still just $2 million worth. Unless the Czech government passed a regulation requiring all citizens to drink several mojitos every day, $270 million worth of rum could be pretty tough to get through. I’m not saying the Czech government shouldn’t do this, or that people would mind, I’m just saying that’s the kind of far-out thinking it would take.