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These sugar barons built an $8 billion fortune with Washington’s help

By Justin Villamil for Bloomberg

As Cuban refugees, the Fanjuls have a familiar story to tell. They fled the revolution. Fidel Castro’s forces seized everything they owned on the island, business interests, homes, a fortune in fine art.

“Men lie about that spoonful. Some cry about that spoonful. Some die about that spoonful. Everybody fight about a spoonful.”

But they didn’t arrive in Florida in 1960 empty handed. Patriarch Alfonso Fanjul Sr., one of the world’s most prosperous sugar barons before Castro came onto the scene, had piled up assets in the U.S. Within two years, he’d acquired new refining plants and begun to recreate the Fanjul empire in exile.

Now his two oldest sons are barons themselves, and among the most effective political donors in America. They have the Trump administration’s ear as it aims to rewrite Nafta — with protections for U.S. sugar growers and millers firmly baked in.

 While the brothers and their three siblings share a fortune that the Bloomberg Billionaires Index values at $8.2 billion, the exact split among them is unknown. But, Alfonso, 80, known as Alfy, and Jose, 73, nicknamed Pepe, control the industry giant Florida Crystal Corp., and according to a Bloomberg analysis also control the family’s wealth. They didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.
The pair have shared so much of their money with politicians over the years that it could be that “sugar, dollar for dollar, is the most influential commodity in the U.S.,” said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former deputy assistant secretary in the Treasury Department. As long as the brothers are around, “I would fall out of my chair at any approach that leads to a free market in sugar.”

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