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Sun Mar 5, 2017, 10:51 AM

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pennsylvanians make a rum run to Cuba

By Brian O'Neill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
HAVANA, Cuba — Pennsylvania legislators flew to Havana last month with a simple idea for getting around the 55-year-old embargo against Cuba: Trade our agricultural products for rum.

Two days in, the plan got even simpler: just buy a boatload of rum for state liquor stores and forget the embargo. Republican state senate leaders say the 21st Amendment, which ended Prohibition 30 years before the embargo began, gives each state absolute control over alcoholic beverages.

“You can’t just suspend the federal constitution,” said Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks County and chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

A Pennsylvania play for Cuban rum would be an extraordinary move at a time when eased Cuban-American relations under President Barack Obama have given way to mostly guesses about President Donald Trump’s stance. In the mid-1990s, Mr. Trump put out feelers for an investment in Cuba once the restrictions were eased, but while the Pennsylvanians were away on the island, Mr. Trump announced that he and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, “have very similar views on Cuba.’’

Mr. Rubio has been a vocal critic of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy. Toss in conservative Keystone Republicans venturing into one of the last outposts of socialism — and finding bureaucrats who have their own spin on the art of the deal — and the plot is as thick as Cuban molasses.

If Mr. McIlhinney is right, and Pennsylvania has a winning constitutional argument to bypass the embargo, it’s one that might have worked years ago. The Liquor Control Board is consulting its lawyers and planning a strategy that could end with Pennsylvania being the only place to buy Cuban rums — though likely not before a court battle.


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If any non-Pennsylvanians are reading this, the Pennsylvania LCB controls all alcohol sales (other than beer/ale) in the state, through our world famous State Stores. Recently there's been been a move to licensing retail liquor stores in PA which would finally bring about the end of the PA State Stores. Could this be the next step?

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