Book Review: The Mafia in Havana

  • Author: Enrique Cirules
  • Paperback: 200 pages (December, 2004)
  • Publisher: Ocean Press (distributed by Pluto in the UK)
  • ISBN: 18761754277

Mafia in Havana Book CoverThe Mafia dominates the Havana described in this book. They used it as both a haven and a playground – “the most splendid of paradises” (p.21) as the author puts it. Drugs, prostitution, gambling were their stock in trade. These come as little surprise. But this book does surprise in other ways.

Enrique Cirules has delved deeply into both Cuban and US archives as well as interviewing eye-witnesses. He slowly builds a complex picture of the financial, media and political links of the Mafia. When they described them as ‘organised crime’ they certainly meant organised!

Cirules lists the links between key Mafia players and banks and other financial institutions (used for money-laundering). He details the way in which the Mafia bought into the media and explains the often complicated links betweeen them and different political tendencies (including both Batista and his sometime rivals in the Autenticos).

The Mafia operated in Cuba for nearly 25 years with very few problems – whoever was supposedly in power. Even when the infamous Lucky Luciano moved publicly to Cuba there was an extreme reluctance to do anything about it on the part of the Cuban authorities (or what the author calls, perhaps more accurately, the “apparant power”). His eventual departure was only under threat of an embargo of medical supplies from the US and the covert opposition of Meyer Lansky himself to his stay. As Cirules explains: “Lansky was both Luciano’s Lieutenant and boss of the empire of Havana, and his assistance in any other circumstance would have been of extraordinary value to Lucky. But the fact that Lucky, the Chief of the Mafia, was moving permanently to Cuba threatened Lansky’s local rule. Opposition to Luciano from other hostile quarters in any case threatened Mafia business interests on the island”. (p.47). Even when he left in ’47 it wasn’t as a prisoner but as a First Class passenger of some social note!

Only when the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, finally won on January 1, 1959 was the party really over for what had become a ‘criminal state’. Cirules has provided a valuable service in documenting the corruption that preceded it and direct US links to it. The account is often dry but it adds greatly to understanding the period.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington


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