Sunday, September 28, 2008


T.J. English, The Havana Mob: Gangster, Gamblers, Showgirls and Revolutionaries in 1950s Cuba (2007) / Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba -- And Then Lost It to the Revolution (2008). English has written a patchwork quilt of a book that's put together from a wide array of disparate sources, but how could the story of the Mob and its connections with bribed members of the US, Cuban, and local government men in the 1940s and 1950s not be fascinating? It is. Kickbacks, sweetened pots, and cameo appearances by Eartha Kitt, Frank Sinatra and JFK along with a host of Italian, Cuban and American gangsters enliven the whole nonfiction story. It's not pretty, but it's compelling.

Of course, it's not much of a stretch to see the same kinds of bribery and kickbacks going on today among politicians and lobbyists a la Jack Abramoff -- from Detroit to Wall Street, from Miami to Main Street. In the 1950s, Cuba's thug-in-charge was Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar, a man who had cozy (and well compensated) relationships with the Mob, American corporations, and the US Government. But he met his match in the Castro brothers (Fidel and Raúl), a revolutionary combination, sort of like a Molotov Cocktail mixing the Coen brothers, Ralph Nader, relentless energy and a bit of good luck.

It's also clear that neither the US Government nor the USA as a society has ever come to terms with either its collusion in rapaciously exploiting Cuba or in thereby helping fan revolution. Instead, much ridiculous energy has been expended over the past FIFTY YEARS in a dumb game, the ill-conceived (from sour grapes and personal vendettas?) politico-economic embargo against Castro-led Cuba. To most of the rest of the world, the American position is dubious at best, completely hypocritical -- and pathetic -- at worst.

Given that the USA trades with China and Vietnam, there is no logic in continuing on the present course. Still, a handful of aging anti-Castro fanatics and other right wing zombies must have their way at the expense of more reasonable people. Hopefully, not for much longer. Personally, I vow to visit Cuba to see it for myself. If Obama wins, travel restrictions will be eased and one need not attain a special waiver or go via Canada or some other country. If McCain wins, same bullshit as the past half century, or worse. Given McCain's well-documented connections with the gambling "industry" and trigger-happy nature, he's readymade for an ugly stint as the next Batista, American style.

Today's Rune: Initiation.


the walking man said...

The above address leads to the googlead link below your post Erik. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

One of the minor reasons that I will go Democrat this election is hoping for a new Cuban policy. That and new directions for SCOTUS. Minor but important none the less.

Beth said...

I must read this!

Have you read Sin in the Second City, by Karen Abbott? It's about Chicago brothels in the early 20th century. Fascinating.

Charles Gramlich said...

The rule seems to be that a more technologically advanced and wealthy country will exploit any country lower on those stats. Sad but it seems the way. Good thing to remember if we ever are contacted by an alien race.

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks all -- all good points!

WM, right on.

Beth -- must check it out. There's also one on Storyville in New Orleans that I'd like to read.

Charles, then it makes sense when other countries try to develop technologically as quickly as they can (including Iran and China).

Let's hope the invaders don't come anytime soon.