Kirkus Reviews QR Code


How the Mob Owned Cuba...And Then Lost it to the Revolution

by T.J. English

Pub Date: June 3rd, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-114771-5
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Or, how are you going to keep the syndicate in Sicily and Little Italy once the wiseguys see the bright lights of Havana?

Crime writer English (Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish-American Gangster, 2005, etc.) unfolds a story whose main outline will be familiar to any fan of The Godfather: Part II, but whose twists and turns no screenplay could keep up with. That story opens at the close of World War II, when Cuba was ruled by yet another in a line of dictators and mob boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano was, in theory, being deported to his native Italy after long imprisonment for various crimes committed in the United States, including extortion and tax evasion. Meyer Lansky, another prime suspect in the annals of American crime, knew otherwise. “Luciano was in Cuba,” writes English, “and the Mob was on the move.” Cuba was to become an offshore base for a new kind of organized crime, one that Lansky and Luciano had been working on for years, appealing as always to personal vice but with a sleeker veneer. Prefiguring Las Vegas, Havana became a headquarters for a kind of color-blind sex and music tourism. Jim Crow prevailed at home, but Jews and Italians could mix easily while listening to the dulcet tones of Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Mathis in the Cuban capital, “one of the hippest ‘scenes’ in the world.” (The popular singer and movie star Carmen Miranda is implicated, too, if only by association.) With the tourism came other business. As English notes, U.S. business investment in Cuba was $142 million at the beginning of the 1950s, and $952 million at the end of the decade, money that propped up the Batista regime—thus giving Fidel Castro yet another reason not to like Americans, or Italians, for that matter.

A capably told history of how the Mob lost control of the island empire.