In an attempt to convince myself that not being able to buy Cuban rum in the States is no big deal, I bought a 700 ml bottle of Ron Matusalem, a Dominican Rum which is generally well-respected.
I tasted the two neat and...wow. The Havana Club is a bit darker, but they're close in color. The Matusalem is not bad...it's certainly smoother and less burnt-tasting than Bacardi, but it has a prominent and borderline cloying vanilla flavor (from this early-80s law case, it seems like they use some sort of vanilla infusion) that unbalances the whole thing. The Havana Club, on the other hand, seems perfectly balanced in comparison, with the smoke, molasses/vanilla, and alcohol heat in good proportion. The nose on the Matusalem was a bit hard to pick out at first, but after tasting, it's clearly dominated by the cloying candy/vanilla.
With that sweetness, I'm a little worried about the rum/coke possibilities: maybe it'll turn out like Vanilla Coke though, and we'll be OK. I don't think that anything is going to beat the Havana Club Cuba Libres anytime soon though.
If I could get my hands on some damn ginger beer here in Sweden, I'd make myself a Dark & Stormy.
Anyway there you go. Cuban rum takes the day. Let's end the embargo.