Havana Nocturne by T.J. English
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I knew that one of the things Castro prided himself on was ridding Cuba of the influence of the American Mob, but I had no idea just how entwined they were with the Batista government. It was also incredible what long-range planners the mobsters were. If younger Americans know anything about these events, it’s from the events of The Godfather, but that movie (or is it part 2?) places the mobster meeting the same week as the revolution. In reality it was decades earlier. In fact, Al Capone had dreamed of Cuba being a Gangster’s Paradise.
One of the crazy things about reading this book is wondering whether things were better or worse during this period. In the end, the answer depends on where people lived. Those in Havana appeared to have benefited from the Havana Mob and the tourism dollars. Those outside the city suffered as the government siphoned the profits from the casinos to themselves rather than using it to support the countryside. Clearly things weren’t better politically, as the Batista government was free to torture and kill. The book, however, didn’t mention any excessive violence that resulted from the mob operating in Cuba. In fact, if anything, it appeared as though this was the best bet the mob had for going legit and many of the members turn to drug running when they’re kicked out of Cuba. Such are the unintended consequences of good intentions (like Prohibition giving the mob a jumpstart, money-wise)
In the end it’s just so crazy how many factors were influencing the populace towards revolution. This is the second book I’ve read about the revolution, the previous one was The Man Who Invented Fidel: Castro, Cuba, and Herbert L. Mathews of the New York Times and that one barely touched on the mob at all. It’s a good reminder that the real world is more complex than we’re often taught in history class. People tend to prefer stability and it takes quite a bit to get people to revolt.