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Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution Paperback – June 9, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Old Havana mambos on the brink of the abyss in this chronicle of Cuba in the decades before the 1959 revolution. True-crime writer English (Paddy Whacked) presents an empire-building saga in which the "Havana Mob" of American gangsters, led by visionary financier Meyer Lansky, controlled Cuba. Empowered by permissive gambling laws and payoffs to dictator Fulgencio Batista, the Mafia poured millions into posh hotels, casinos and nightclubs, skimmed huge profits and sought to make Havana its financial headquarters. The results: exuberant nightlife, a giddy Afro-Cuban jazz scene, sordid backroom sex shows and the occasional grisly gangland hit. English revels in purple prose ("the island seethed like a bitch with a low-grade fever") and decadent details, including an orgy with Frank Sinatra and a bevy of prostitutes that was interrupted by autograph-seeking Girl Scouts and a nun. But his estimate of the importance of the Havana mob and its "showdown" with Castro's puritanical rebels seems inflated. More supplicant than suzerain to Batista, the mob focused on internecine feuds and paid little attention to the brewing insurrection. The casinos, hotels and nightclubs were all the mob owned-but they sure threw one hell of a party. Photos. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The penetration of American organized crime into the gambling and entertainment industries in Cuba has been well documented. The actual process of this takeover is quite interesting, involving political corruption, mob culture, and the interaction of Cuban ruling elites and revolutionary figures. English, who teaches a course on organized crime at the New College of California, places Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano at the center of his narrative. As portrayed by English, these boyhood friends combine brutality, cynicism, and an expansive vision of creating a criminal empire with a protected base in Cuba. English writes eloquently about prerevolutionary Havana, where the glitter of nightlife and an “anything goes” facade covered up the widespread poverty and decadent political culture under Batista. As long as English sticks to organized crime he remains on solid ground. Unfortunately, when he ventures into the political realm, he oversimplifies, displaying an appalling ignorance of the complexities of the various groups opposed to Batista. Still, this is a valuable examination of organized-crime figures and their efforts to thrive in a seemingly receptive environment. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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If you listen to some tell it, you would think that Cuba was a peaceful paradise where everything was wonderful and happy. The real story is a much more sordid tale of American mobsters and American corporations milking the country dry while a corrupt dictator lined his and his cronies pockets with bribes, payoffs, torture and oppression. The only people that were happy with the state of things before Castro, were those that were living the highlife financed by gambling, drug running, prostitution and backroom deals.
America helped to create Castro and hedged their bets, playing both sides... There is a lot to be learned about what we did to the cuban people and how we plundered this island and it's common people. America's hands are far from clean in this..... get the whole story.
About those tall tales: did you hear the one about Senator John Kennedy being set up with two prostitutes in Havana, in a special room outfitted with a two-way mirror? The wise guys watched and laughed, and kicked themselves later for not taking pictures, which could be used to bribe a Senator (later, President). But why would the mobsters go to the trouble of outfitting a special room with a two-way mirror, and neglect to include a storage unit with camera equipment in the adjoining room?
Did you hear the one about Frank Sinatra--how a wise guy got him out of an unfavorable contract by sticking a gun in his producer's mouth? Nancy Sinatra, in her biography of her father, tells a different story--Frank Sinatra's new recording company bought him out of his previous contract for over $70,000, a lot of money in the 1950s. When I brought this up in the book club, everyone dismissed Nancy Sinatra's story as biased and went with the wise guy's version-- even though T. J. English himself says that his version is just a gangster-tale! (The wise guy version appears also in "Five Families.") The oddest thing about this is that while Nancy Sinatra's version of the story can be documented with a contract, the gangster version cannot be -- supposedly because the wise guys didn't have a camera with them -- yet people prefer to believe the version that can't be proved.
Which leaves me with two questions. First, why are most people ready to believe stories like this that look like urban legends and are seldom subject to critical examination? Second, what was it about the mob-culture that encouraged wise guys to spit-shine their street creds with a never-ending blather of tall tales? Was it because they got loose tongues after drinking too much wine in their Italian restaurants? Or was it because the only way to advance in the organization was to have a reputation for being tough and tricky? I'm proposing this as a serious research question. In my opinion, the wise-guy tales are of no intrinsic interest (except to minds degraded from reading National Inquirer), but they are interesting as by-products of a peculiar mob-culture in America.
Along the way, the book includes profiles of mobsters like Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Santo Triffficante and Albert Anastasia. He also discusses the glamorous night life of Havana in the 1950s. I would highly recommend this book to any history buff or anyone interested in the history of organized crime in America.