Tag: Santos Trafficante Jr.

Havana Nocturne by T.J. English

April 2nd, 2014 — 8:09pm

Havana Nocturne by T.J. EnglishScreen Shot 2014-04-01 at 11.10.58 PMI thought that I was a little familiar with the history Cuba. I knew that Spain won its freedom from Spain in the Spanish American War. I knew that during the reign of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista the United States and large U.S. corporations had a good deal and made lots of money from Cuba.  I was aware in 1959 Fidel Castro and his revolutionary army basically took over the country, nationalized US companies and threw out the Americans as well as many wealthy Cubans. They established a more or less socialistic economy as Batista escaped in exile. I also had a vague awareness that prior to the revolution Havana was a very exciting city with lots of nightclubs run largely by gangsters similar to stories I heard about Las Vegas. 

     This book written by an American journalist T. J. English fills in the details about Batista, Castro and especially the very personal story of the mafia, the mob or the gangsters who in a very deliberate manner conquered the economy of this country and ruled it’s jeweled city of Havana for almost seven years. I am ashamed to admit that prior to reading this book, I had considered that there must have been some redeeming value in Batista, if the U. S. including Presidents Eisenhower and JFK had strongly supported him However, after learning about the suitcases of money that were delivered to Batista in exchange for letting the gangsters take over Havana, I was quite surprised and disappointed.

The Cuban revolution is only a small part of this story that is told in great details (with much documentation and cross referencing in the appendix at the end of the book as if that were really needed.) This book chronicles the life of gangsters, Charles Lucky Luciano and most of all Meyer Lansky. There are fascinating behind the scenes details of historical events that most of us would never have known. We learn that Lucky Luciano might have lived most of his adult life in prison if there was not a deal made with the United States Navy who had a need to catch Nazi sabatours who were operating on the NY and Brooklyn docks where Luciano had the ability to ferret out their identities. This earned him an out of jail ticket and deportation to Italy from where he then traveled to Cuba.

On the other hand, the descriptions of the life and successful business doings of Mr. Lanksy would have to be of interest, and perhaps envy of every Harvard Business School graduate although we would hope they not follow in his unscrupulous side. Lansky knew how to involve his business associates with a piece of the action so for the most part they would be content with hardly a necessary mob hit (although there were certainly a few of them described in the book). In fact, there were the inside details of some of the biggest gangster hits of all time including the notorious Albert Anastasia

The life styles and personalities of several mobsters are describes in detail as there was a quite a large number of them who came to Cuba to seek their fortunes. Particularly prominent along with Luciano and Lanksy was Santos Trafficante Jr. who in addition to having his hooks in Havana controlled activities in Tampa, Florida. Their backgrounds, personalities and relationships with each other are all dissected. For the most part their motive was clear, money-lots of it. They saw Cuba, as a fertile field for exploiting. Havana was an immensely attractive playground for he rich as well as the wannabee rich, all who were drawn to this glamorous city. There also was an account of Frank Sinatra’s acquaintance with the mob and there even was a story about something like an orgy in which a young US Senator JFK was a participant.

English’s writing style is relatively straightforward. The references are in the back of the book but the sequences of events and cast of characters were clearly rolled out as was the various nefarious schemes. At times English would throw in a colorful metaphor such as. “ Throughout the month of December, the island seethed like a bitch with a low grade fever.” Perhaps the only thing that was not clear to me is why the influence of the exiled Cubans mostly concentrated in Florida, to this day continues to prevent the US from lifting the Cuban embargo and developing a reasonable relationship with the Cuban people. Now that Castro himself is in his waning days and island itself as we observed during a recent trip is experimenting with various forms of capitalism, it may be a short time before that occurs. It will be interesting to see when that happens if the mob will creep back into Havana in the dead of night.



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