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Book Review: Havana Nocturne – How The Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost it To The Revolution by T.J. English

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Havana Nocturne: How The Mob Owned Cuba And Then Lost It To The Revolution, by T.J. English, is a compelling story about life in Cuba when the Mob took control of life, from day to day politics to nighttime activities, both legal and less than. By history's standards, the time span took place over a couple of decades. The United States has been in existence longer by many, many more years. Be that as it may, the effects can still be felt around the world.

First things first. Although the "Havana Mob" involves people most would refer to as gangsters, the center of operation came from the land of sugar and rum. Bugsy Siegel stuck his head in the door, but died violently for his involvement with a woman less than highly respected by his peers. Lucky Luciano stayed a bit longer, until the United States forced Cuba to send him packing in exile to Italy. How? By threatening sanctions so severe that Cuba really didn't have any choice but to do as ordered if they wanted to maintain relations.

The Havana Mob mostly made their money through nightclubs and casinos. Needless to say, tourism and celebrities who wanted to experience pure pleasure by spending endlessly helped matters considerably. Mambo was also part of the draw.

Some of the names attached to the nightlife are well known. JFK, for example. Sinatra. Ginger Rogers and Desi Arnaz took the opportunity to perform. While English is careful about suggesting how much these performers understood about the men running certain establishments, conspiracy theorists might find more fuel for their fires.

There is clear evidence local government bought into the notion of financial prosperity if they allowed the illegal gambling and sex trade businessmen to continue without running afoul of the law. Some people would call the regular payoff a bribe. Readers can decide for themselves whether or not they agree with the term.

However, a group of citizens decided to try and take matters into their own hands. Chief among these were Che Guevera and a zealot named Fidel Castro. Although formal schooling never quite worked out, the desire for a revolutionary change could not be easily extinguished. Protests were too great in number and too loud to be dismissed.

T.J. English does an impressive job of conveying the exact state of Cuba's union back then. The glittery nightlife is tempered with the violence of doing business when taking the law into one's own hands.

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About NancyGail

  • http://ninetymilesaway.blogspot.com rsnlk

    Your piece demonstrates exactly what I feared when I first heard about this book. I was afraid that it was either inaccurate or skewed so that the reader would come away with the wrong impression.

    The mob did not own Cuba. It did not even own Havana. Whatever part of the capital they controlled in whatever form with whatever government complicity was but a small portion of a larger country. To perpetuate the myth popularized by the Godfather does a disservice to the truth.

    As to your comment about those good old boys Che and Castro, it is, perhaps, not the wisest thing to minimize, distort, and make light of a movement and situation that has caused seemingly endless suffering to millions.

  • Albert P.R.

    What a ludicrous title! A few mafioso in Cuba and some gambling casinos turns into control of a country. I don’t buy the title.

  • Ken Hahn

    Another excuse for Castro. I do not understand why those who prefer totalitarians insist on living in free countries. English should move to Cuba and get paid for his propaganda.

  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com NancyGail

    I’m not making excuses for Castro, Ken. What he has put Cuba through has been a disaster, although his brother now in power may not be much better. The revolution was not unlike the protests in Vietnam, where a group made enough noise so they had to be paid attention to.

  • Brian

    I am the son of two Cubans who fled after the revolution. They hold that under Batista you were free to live the life you pleased and they acknowledge the fact that corruption existed but point that it existed here in the US as well.

    I think it is foolish and partisan to attack the lesser evil in Cuba’s history while downplaying its current situation. I long for a book that speaks truth on the corruption that once existed while also exploring the total collapse, decay, and abuse that exists there today. Batista had several prostitutes in Havana, Fidel has twice as many with several underage since you make more money being one today then you do with any legal occupation.

  • EHUD

    The only real whores are Americans and the government they pay taxes to.

  • Jack

    CHE is alive!!! Revolution will free the world from the US!!!

  • bliffle

    Cuba was dominated by the mafia under Batista. That’s why so many Americans became Fidelistas when Castro started out.

    Castro has become a disaster, but many of the people who fled Cuba and now complain from the safety of Miami were the beneficiaries of the corrupt Batista regime. Be careful when they speak.

  • Capt Dave

    I am currently reading Havana Nocturne. I wondered what the original (1959) Cuban immigrants to the US would have to say about it, so I searched for this review and comments. Just as I thought.

    In the 1960s – 1980s, I met and worked with Cuban immigrants, and their first generation offspring. I lived in Florida during some of that time. When Castro came to power, those who were able to leave Cuba were the educated, wealthy, upper class professional, business, and financial people, and those from the Batista government. For many, proclaiming oneself to be anti-Castro was a euphemism for preferring the former government, and all of its corruption, brutality, and repression. Overt supporters of a crooked, disgraced former dictator would not garner much sympathy in the good old USA.

    So, the old guard lost its memories of how bad most Cubans were treated, and how the “poor immigrants” were forced to leave. Of course they had to leave. They were a part of a repressive regime — either actively or passively.

    Back to the book. The comments on the review and the book will reflect the partisan viewpoint of the commentators. Not much different than one would expect from the two sides of the Middle East conflict or the Irish “Troubles”. Nobody ever forgives or forgets. That legacy will survive all those who actually experienced the reality — and it will never be accurate.

    The book is pretty good, and interesting reading for me, as a history buff and one who lived through the entire period not totally aware of what was going on. Whichever side you are on, or if you are not involved in the debate — read it.

  • Roxana

    I love the book. I do believe that because of mob connections, Batista lost the support of the United States. Without this support, the regime was left at the mercy of a growing revolutionary force. I agree with English’s thesis, and believe that had it not been for the Mafia connection, Batista’s government would have survived the revolution, since it would have had assistance from the United States government.

  • Derek

    this book is biased

  • Derek

    Knows his stuff in reference to the criminal aspect of the book, but a complete ignorant when it comes to politics. It also indirectly portrays Fidel as the savior of Cuba.

  • dik

    cuba cuba cuba

  • Rob

    The focus of the book is on the period leading up to the revolution. Based on references to Castro, I don’t see any excuses being made for what he has done. I hope this historical information will be helpful in determinign Cuba’s future.

  • george

    the US should sotp the embargo right away, and apologize to Cuba