Jim Reviews: Havana Nocturne – T. J. English

Like most Americans, I got my knowledge about the mob in Cuba from watching The Godfather Part 2.  Havana Nocturne was actually a book I picked up out of my interest in the Cold War but I learned quite a bit more from it than that. As the name suggests this is the parallel stories of the US mobsters who funded and ran the Havana leisure industry of hotels, casinos, and nightclubs in the 1950s and the Cuban revolution that brought it to an end.

The book opens with the arrival of mobster Lucky Luciano in Cuba in 1946 to meet with Meyer Lansky another Mob boss that Luciano had known since he was a kid. Lansky and Luciano along with other leaders in the US Mob planned to move into Havana building or expanding the Hotel and Casino businesses and by extension drugs and prostitution. All with support from the dictator Fulgencio Batista. Luciano doesn’t last long. The US government who had deported Luciano to Italy after World War II was not pleased with his presence 90 miles off the US coast. They leaned on the Cuban government and back to Italy Luciano was sent. This didn’t slow down Lansky though. He and Santo Trafficante from Tampa Florida and many other gang members went on to run huge hotel/casinos that tapped into the American public’s new post war wealth and leisure time.

All the while revolution is brewing in Cuba. Batista to maintain power brutalized the Cuban people. In 1956 Fidel Castro and a band of revolutionaries that had been training in Mexico landed on the coast of Cuba and slipped into the mountains of Oriente Provence. From there they led a 4 year war against Batista moving ever closer to Havana. What is really striking about this story is how unaware the mob really was of the impending revolution. When Castro’s forces finally reached the city the mobsters were caught totally by surprise. Hotel/Casinos were looted. Many of the mobsters were captured in Cuba simply because they couldn’t believe that Castro would change anything.

The story is interesting and very well written. Check this one out if you like either cold war history or true crime.