Source – crimereads.com
– “…The failed invasion would indirectly become the seed for a criminal underworld in America known as the Corporation…the Bay of Pigs invasion would spawn further attempts to kill Castro and overthrow the Cuban government. These secret plots were undertaken by an alliance between the CIA and militant Cuban exiles… This narrative thread would run through American Cold War history…The Watergate burglary, political assassinations in the United States and overseas, the Iran-Contra scandal—these were just a few of the events that grew out of the anti-Castro movement”
How Cuban Revolutionaries, Cops, and Gamblers Built a Mafia – By T.J. English
In the United State of America, the true melting pot has been organized crime. The process of becoming American is rooted in gangsterism. If you start with the supposition that the country is by its very nature a criminal enterprise—colonized and taken by force from the indigenous population, then facilitated by an economic system of human enslavement that was eventually determined to be illegal—you get the picture. The seed was planted long ago. The Mob is merely the flowering of that seed, watered with the blood of the many thousands of gangland slaying victims from over the last century.
Traditional organized crime—Irish, Italian, Jewish, and more—has its roots in the early decades of the twentieth century. The Prohibition era gave rise to a criminal system by which gangsterism and politics would be inexorably linked, and the American underworld was institutionalized. Aspects of this history have been memorialized in movies, novels, and popular culture. For many citizens, the very idea of gangsterism is rooted in this historical narrative of getting ahead in the social universe, what we sometimes refer to as the pursuit of the American dream.
(Also Read: The Corporation: An Epic Story Of The Cuban-American Underworld @ https://www.wlrn.org/post/corporation-tells-other-dark-bay-pigs-story-cuban-american-mob)
For Cuban Americans, this storyline is of a more recent vintage. Whereas the traditional Mob arose in the early decades of the previous century, the Cuban underworld in the United States was spawned by a revolution back home in La Patria, the Homeland, which took place in the 1950s.
The tumultuous legacy of the Cuban Revolution, as led by Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and many others, has been chronicled in innumerable books, documentaries, paintings, plays, movies, and personal histories. Like other historical events of great consequence, it has been interpreted and reconstituted through the prism of political ideology, iconography, legend, and fantasy so that the lessons to be learned are fungible, depending on your point of view. Castro is a hero; Castro is the devil. The revolution was for the people, or it was done to centralize the power of the government, so that Castro could never be challenged.
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One indisputable and rarely discussed point is that many men and women who contributed to the revolution, including some who fought alongside Castro and his 26th of July Movement, did not know—nor would it have been their intention had they known—that they were taking part in a communist takeover. Castro was scrupulous in not declaring the political movement of which he was a part to be a Marxist-Leninist enterprise. When he traveled to the United States in 1955–56 and gave speeches designed to raise money for his cause, he kept his cards close to his chest. It was only after the revolution was successful that Castro and Guevara made their designs clear.
Some prominent members of the revolution, including rebel fighters who had distinguished themselves on the battlefield, and also some leading minds of the underground resistance, expressed their dismay with the direction of the new revolutionary government. When it became clear that the Castro regime was to be a communist dictatorship, with no legitimate elections, people began to flee. Supporters of the deposed dictator, El Presidente Fulgencio Batista, were, for obvious reasons, among the first to abandon ship.
Those who didn’t escape were rounded up; some were put up against a wall and executed by firing squad. (¡Paredón!—To the wall!)
The next to flee were the upper classes, which had seen their property and businesses seized by government decree. And then came the tens of thousands of others, common folk—teachers, professionals, artists, and the dispossessed—who fled the island any way they could, by plane and by boat, and, in later years, by raft, inflated inner tubes, and other flimsy, jerry-rigged vessels, some of which succumbed to the stormy realities of an unforgiving sea, resulting in death.
For those who fled, especially those who had originally been supportive of the revolution, the dominant mood was one of resentment along with a deep sense of betrayal. Where there are feelings of betrayal, there is often a need for revenge. This was a concept that flowed like ectoplasm through the veins of a newly vanquished people.
They settled mostly in South Florida, primarily the city of Miami, which was 228 miles across the Florida Strait from Havana, a short forty-five-minute flight for those with the means and rarefied diplomatic status to make the journey. A number of Cubans continued north and settled in Hudson County, New Jersey, mostly in the town of Union City, which by the late 1960s would have the largest population of Cuban émigrés outside of Miami. There, they found work in the garment factories that had served as the area’s main source of employment since the post–World War II years, when the town was populated mostly by citizens of Italian, Irish, and Jewish extraction.
Both in New Jersey and in South Florida—in fact, anywhere that Cubans settled—they brought their cultural traditions. Brilliant AfroCuban music; vibrant dance clubs; a devotion to Catholicism and also, in some cases, the pagan religion of Santería; cigars nonpareil; occasional cockfighting; the preeminence of family life; a diet heavy on chicken, léchon (suckling pig), plantains, and rice and beans; a taste for rum from the islands; and, for some, an affinity for games of chance, most notably a simple game known to all Latinos as la bolita.
Given the ubiquitous presence of bolita among Cubans of all classes and genders, it was perhaps inevitable that the game would thrive in the Cuban exile communities of Miami and Union City.
Literally, the word bolita means “little ball.” The designation stems from a time when the national lottery in Cuba was determined by small numbered balls being thrown into a bag, mixed up, and then randomly withdrawn to determine the daily number. Bolita, the illegal underground numbers game, was known as the poor man’s lottery. The winning number was based on the Cuban national lottery; it was cheaper, so you could play for less and win more money. From the 1920s onward, it became something of a national passion in Cuba, as common as sugarcane fields, royal palms, and the distant, ever-present drumbeat of revolution.
Given the ubiquitous presence of bolita among Cubans of all classes and genders, it was perhaps inevitable that the game would thrive in the Cuban exile communities of Miami and Union City. And so it was. The man whose name would come to be associated with this illegal activity in the United States had not been a seasoned bolitero, or bolita boss, back in Cuba. He had been a cop in the city of Havana during the reign of the Batista dictatorship. His name was José Miguel Battle y Vargas.
Havana in the 1950s was a rollicking city of corruption and good times. Some would remember it as one of the most glorious localities for sensuality and vice in the entire twentieth century. Partly this had to do with the Caribbean’s historical precedent as a crossroads for black market commerce and profiteering since the days of spice traders, international mercenaries, pirates, and buccaneers. Havana would eventually become a city unlike any other in the region—a sophisticated Latin American center of culture and grand architecture—but the city would forever maintain its sultry, sexually oriented underbelly as a draw for tourists and celebrities from around the globe.
Meyer Lansky, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Santo Trafficante Jr. were among the prominent mafiosi in the United States who had always recognized Cuba as the ideal location for an offshore base of operations. It also had great value as a moneymaking proposition by itself. Lansky was the first to establish a relationship with Fulgencio Batista, who in 1952 appointed the mobster as Cuba’s director of gambling reform. Lansky cleaned up the island’s bad reputation for rigged casino gambling. This would lead to an expansion in the gaming and entertainment industry in Cuba unlike anything seen before.
It all started with the casinos, which were mostly located inside the best hotels in town. The Hotel Nacional had the most elegant casino, and the swankiest was inside Lansky’s own Hotel Riviera, which opened in 1957. Designed by internationally renowned architect Igor Boris Polevitzky, the room was oval, with luxurious wall-to-wall carpeting, gold leaf walls, and velvet banquettes, and from the ceiling hung seven custom-designed gold and crystal chandeliers. In the room’s center were the gaming tables—roulette, craps, blackjack, chemin de fer (baccarat), with a row of slot machines lining the curved perimeter wall. The sunken Doble o Nada (Double or Nothing) bar off the casino floor was one of the hotel’s three venues for live entertainment.
From the outside, the casino’s egg-shaped roof, adjacent to the hotel itself, was modernistic. The entire place was a work of art.
The casinos in Havana set the tone and generated a flow of cash that spilled into other areas. Every hotel had a nightclub that became the center of a fabulous entertainment scene, with hot Latin jazz orchestras, luscious showgirls, elaborate floor shows, and many top singers and entertainers from the United States. Outside these official worlds of casino gambling and live entertainment was a vibrant netherworld of bordellos, sex shows, private high-stakes card games, and access to narcotics.
He was a vice cop in 1950s Havana, which was something like being a centurion in the age of Caligula.
José Miguel Battle worked this terrain from the highest levels to the lowest. He was a vice cop in 1950s Havana, which was something like being a centurion in the age of Caligula. Other branches of the police dealt with political dissent and underground political activity. The notorious Servicio de Inteligencia Militar (SIM), Batista’s secret police, rounded up students and others who were believed to be involved in antigovernment activities and took them to warehouses and back rooms to be tortured and sometimes killed. Battle was not involved in this kind of policing. He was a member of the national police, not military intelligence. As a vice cop, he made the rounds at whorehouses, gambling parlors, nightclubs, cockfighting dens, and the hotels, where you could smoke a cigar in the lobby. He came to know the city’s inhabitants, from the lowliest street pimps to people high up in politics and the entertainment worlds.
One of those people was Martín Fox, the proprietor of the most legendary nightclub in town, the Tropicana. Before he became a nightclub impresario, Fox had been one of the city’s preeminent boliteros. He started as a lowly listero, one who takes bets and records the transactions on paper. By the late 1940s, after moving from his home province of Matanzas, he became one of the wealthiest banqueros, or bolita bankers, in Havana. He was the one who covered for all other boliteros if a particular number that had been bet on by multitudes—say, the number eight on September 8, the date of the Feast of the Virgin of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint—was the number that day. Fox had enough “bank” to cover those losses, with the knowledge that over time his percentage of the winnings from all of the boliteros combined would greatly outstrip the losses. Eventually, he parlayed his winnings into establishing an underground gambling scene in Havana that, though illegal, was made possible through payoffs to the police.
José Miguel Battle came to Havana as a cop in June 1951. By then Martín Fox had risen from bolitero and underground gambling boss to being the owner of the Tropicana. Between Battle and Fox there was a natural affinity. They even looked alike. Both were heavyset men, salt-of-the-earth types, equal parts friendly and gruff. They resembled the movie actor Anthony Quinn. Both were guajiros, country bumpkins who had come to Havana with a dream of making something of themselves in the big city. Though the younger Battle was as dazzled as anyone by the Tropicana, when he met with Fox he was more curious about Fox’s time as a bolitero and how he had used that to achieve high social status.
In time, they formed something of a business relationship. Fox made monthly payments of five thousand pesos to José Salas Cañizares, the chief of police. Sometimes the man who delivered that payment for Fox was José Miguel Battle. Later, Battle’s role as a bagman in Havana would be upgraded considerably, when he began delivering much larger sums of cash from high-ranking U.S. mobsters to the presidential palace of Fulgencio Batista.
The town of Alto Songo in the province of Oriente, is located near the eastern end of the island, far from Havana. In modern Havana, they have a joke about those from Oriente living in the capital city. They are referred to as Palestinos (Palestinians), because in Havana they are a people without land. Alto Songo, the birthplace of José Miguel Battle, was at the time of his birth nearly preindustrial, without modern plumbing and limited access to running water or electricity.
Battle was born at ten o’clock on the morning of September 14, 1929. He was the oldest child of José Maria Batlle Bestard and Angela Vargas Yzaguirre, who had been born and raised in Alto Songo. Eventually, José Miguel was joined by five brothers (Gustavo, Pedro, Sergio, Hiram, and Aldo) and a sister (Dolores). As a youth, he attended the Instituto Santiago de Cuba, the main school in the city of the same name. He graduated in 1947.
Just two years later, at the age of nineteen, Battle joined the Cuban national police in Santiago. A year and a half later he was transferred to Havana, which was a big step up for the young guajiro. Not only would he no longer have to wear the uniform of a cadet or patrol officer, but he was assigned to the vice squad, which meant he came to work in street clothes. Technically, he was a “delegate,” or investigator, with the Bureau of Investigations, a division of the national police based out of a police station in the Rio Almendares area. Battle’s unit dealt primarily with illegal gambling and robberies.
At the same time that José Miguel was inaugurating his career as a policeman in Havana, he began a family. In 1952, he married Maria Josefa Rodriguez y Vega, and within a year they had a son, José Miguel Battle Jr. They lived in the Luyano district, near the Port of Havana.
Most anyone who knew Battle during these years remembered him as someone who moved easily between the police and criminal worlds— when it came to gambling, there was little difference between the two. Gambling bosses paid the police for protection, and the money was spread throughout the chain of command. In Havana, as in many cities with an active underworld, criminals were not necessarily people you put in jail. For a detective, sometimes it was better to have crooks out on the street working for you. Battle always seemed to be looking to make alliances.
One street criminal who got to know Battle in Havana was a man we’ll call “Jesús.” A year younger than Battle, Jesús was a black market gun merchant in the city at a time when weapons were in high demand, both with street criminals and with political rebels plotting against the government. Jesús was part of a crew that stole guns, sometimes from the police, and sold them to whoever was interested. Occasionally he served as a middleman receiving stolen guns from others and selling them to a third party. “Sometimes,” he said, “we sold guns back to the same people they were stolen from.”
One day, a friend of Jesús’s came to him and said, “There’s a cop who wants to talk to you. His name is José Miguel Battle.”
Jesús had never heard of the guy. “What’s he want to know?”
“He knows you’ve been bartering stolen guns on the black market, guns that were stolen from the police.” Jesús’s friend knew Battle and vouched for him as someone who was “honorable,” meaning someone who knew the rules of the underworld and would not use the meeting as an opportunity to arrest him.
Jesús agreed to meet the cop. They met in the restaurant at the Hotel Sevilla Biltmore, an establishment owned by Amleto Battisti y Lora, who was a key player in the Havana Mob. Battisti, an Italian national, was, among other things, a cocaine and marijuana peddler who made regular payoffs to the police. If this cop, Battle, was willing to meet him there, Jesús knew he had nothing to worry about.
Battle showed up at the Sevilla Biltmore with Vincente Juvenciente, his partner. Jesús was there with a friend.
Said Battle to Jesús, “Did you recently buy some revolvers from a black guy in El Centro [Havana’s Central district]?”
“That depends,” said Jesús.
“Well, we arrested un negro. He tells us he sold some guns to you. Those guns were stolen from the police.”
Jesús thought about it for a few seconds and then said, “Oye, listen, I can’t tell you where anything is or who anyone is, so just let me know what else you need from me.”
Battle took full stock of him and said, “You are a real man. You don’t snitch on your partners. That is a good quality.”
From then on, Jesús and Battle became friendly. The street hustler and the cop occasionally traded information when it was mutually beneficial.
Many years later, far from Havana, Jesús would go to work for Battle’s criminal organization in the United States. He is said to have performed many functions, including serving as a hit man.
Alliances are what Havana in the 1950s was all about. Another underworld figure Battle came to know, who in the pecking order of crime was in a universe far above that of Jesús, was Santo Trafficante Jr.
Alliances are what Havana in the 1950s was all about.
Battle was introduced to Trafficante by Martín Fox. Though the Tropicana nightclub was known as the only club in town that was not owned or co-owned by the Havana Mob, the gambling concession there was controlled by Trafficante. Fox and Trafficante had a decent working relationship, and for the club owner to introduce the young vice cop to one of the premier mobsters in town was the kind of thing that made their world go round.
The Trafficante family was legendary in Cuba. Back in the 1930s, Trafficante’s Sicilian-born father was among the first mafiosi to establish a beachhead in Cuba. Santo Trafficante Sr. had been a founding father of the Mafia in Tampa, Florida, a city with a vibrant Cuban American population going back to the days of the Spanish-American War. Trafficante Sr. did criminal business with Cubans in Tampa. He learned to speak fluent Spanish, which had similarities to his native Sicilian. He came to know and appreciate Cuban culture: cigars, Spanish food, and a strong patriarchy with the women at home raising the family and the men out in the street taking care of business.
From early on, bolita was a primary aspect of the Mob’s operations in Tampa. And then there was heroin. In the 1930s, Trafficante Sr. established Cuba as a major transshipment point for heroin coming from the city of Marseille, on the French Riviera.
By the 1950s, Trafficante Sr. was old and in his last days (he died in 1954). Heroin was no longer a major aspect of the Mob’s business in Cuba. Meyer Lansky had taken over, and he made it clear that the narcotics business was out. There was no need to jeopardize the casino gambling empire they were creating on the island by bringing down the wrath of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). Already in 1947 the FBN had brought about the deportation of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, a prominent heroin smuggler, from Cuba. From then on, the Havana Mob mostly stayed clear of the dope business.
Santo Jr. had a prickly partnership with Lansky, but he understood. With his wire-framed glasses and mostly placid demeanor, he had the look of a banker, not a gangster. He considered himself to be a businessman—granted, one who ordered hits on rivals and associates and spent his entire day scheming to commit crimes. But he was part of a proud tradition. And in Havana, that tradition had coalesced around the tried-and-true business of casino gambling, which wasn’t even illegal in Cuba.
It didn’t take long for Trafficante and Battle to form a partnership. Trafficante had other ongoing criminal rackets in Cuba, including the importation of bootleg cigarettes. Battle kept the mafioso abreast of gossip both in the law enforcement world and on the street.
Eventually, José Miguel was entrusted with an important job. Each week, he met with emissaries of Trafficante’s and picked up a suitcase or suitcases filled with cash. It was his responsibility to see that these were delivered to the presidential palace, where they eventually made their way to the president. These payments came from the “skim” at the casinos, the money that was pilfered from the counting rooms and delivered into the hands of the Mob. In Havana, there was no gaming commission. In effect, the Mob was the gaming commission.
Batista’s estimated weekly payment was $1.5 million.
Everyone benefited. The mobsters got rich. President Batista got rich. And José Miguel Battle played a small but pivotal role in a criminal alliance that would go down in history.
When it all came crashing down, on New Year’s Day 1959, Battle and many others did not initially see any reason to panic, even though the signs were not good. Batista fled the city by plane under cover of darkness. Trucks filled with guerrillas flooded into the city. One of the first actions of the people, after taking to the streets in celebration, was to trash the casinos. Slot machines and gambling tables were dragged out into the street, smashed, and set on fire. To those who were pro-Castro, the casinos had become a prime symbol of corruption and imperialist oppression.
Even so, there was reason to believe that the gaming industry might be preserved under the Castro regime. The profits generated by the casinos were too potentially remunerative for them to be shut down. As for Battle, he still had a job as a police officer, even though to have been a cop during the Batista dictatorship, with all the graft and corruption, would not put him in good standing with the new revolutionary government.
Battle stayed in Havana, but things quickly turned sour. After a period of negotiation, Castro shut down all the casinos. Battle was demoted from the vice squad to the transportation bureau. He was now a traffic inspector. He hated the job and began planning a way, as so many of his friends and associates had done, to escape the island.
A key point of connection for many were the roving poker games that popped up in the backs of Latin restaurants and in people’s apartments.
On December 28, 1959, one year after Batista fled the island, Battle, through connections, was able to secure a U.S. tourist visa. He left Cuba by boat. His port of entry was New York City. He stayed at the Mayflower Hotel, at Central Park West and 61st Street. There were other Cubans who had settled in Manhattan; mostly they lived in uptown tenement apartments in the area of St. Nicholas Avenue and Fort Washington Avenue. A key point of connection for many were the roving poker games that popped up in the backs of Latin restaurants and in people’s apartments. There Battle met a number of Cuban émigrés who would become important players in his future as a gambling boss.
Occasionally, Battle made the short trip across the river to Union City, New Jersey, which was also becoming a popular locality for Cubans to settle. He bought into a bar in Union City called Johnny’s Go Go Club, located on the corner of 48th Street and Palisade Avenue. The bar had female go-go dancers. Battle’s investment was minimal, but it served its purpose as a beachhead in the new world.
The idea was for Battle to get settled and then somehow get his wife and young son out of Cuba. It was a struggle then being undertaken by thousands of exiles, part of a diaspora from an island that was being torn asunder by the consequences of revolution.
One person who met Battle during this period was Abraham Rydz, a Polish Jew who moved to Cuba with his parents at the age of two and grew up in Havana. The two men knew each other from gambling days back in Havana during the Batista era. They first met at a card game in the bustling district of Vedado. Now, a few years later, here they were as displaced refugees in New York and Union City, where they met once again over cards.
Rydz heard that Battle had a bar and was looking to establish roots in the area. Eventually they would become partners in a gambling enterprise that would make them both rich, but that was many years away. “At the time,” said Rydz, “he had nothing. None of us did. We were struggling to survive.”
In April 1960, Battle overstayed his visa—for a good reason. On the exile grapevine, he had been hearing some exciting news that the U.S. government was recruiting people for a secret invasion of Cuba. This was almost too good to be true. Many Cubans who had left the island dreamed of overthrowing Fidel and taking back their country. With the power of the U.S. military behind them, and the support of a secret organization most had never heard of called the Central Intelligence Agency, how could they lose?
Battle traveled to Miami and booked a room at the South American Hotel, on 2nd Street and Second Avenue. With more than a thousand fellow Cuban refugees, he assembled in a hangar in the adjacent city of Hialeah. It was explained to the men by representatives of the CIA that the U.S. government was committed to overthrowing Castro and helping to establish a democratic government in Cuba.
Battle was down for the cause. Within days, he shipped out, along with hundreds of other Cuban exiles, first to a secret camp in the Homestead area of South Florida, and than on to a training facility hidden in the hills of Guatemala. It was the beginning of a new adventure that Battle and the others believed would lead them all back to their homeland, where they could live as proud Cubans in the country they loved.
The story of Cuban organized crime in America has its roots in what would become known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. The overwhelming majority of men who signed on for this covert operation, which was initially put in motion by the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the CIA, had no criminal inclinations. On the contrary, the men who were chosen were carefully vetted to make sure they did not have criminal records or reputations that would in any way damage the image of the operation. By and large these men were driven by patriotism and ideology. Their goal was to take back Cuba. The goal of the U.S. government, on the other hand, had more to do with the Cold War, a battle against the encroachment of communism in the Western Hemisphere, with Cuba as merely a piece on a chessboard.
Either way, all concerned were embarking on a course from which there was no return. Men like José Miguel Battle, forced out of their country by what they considered to be an undemocratic and vindictive process, gave their lives over to the cause with a dedication bordering on zealotry. The Bay of Pigs invasion would become one of the most notorious military failures in U.S. history.
The men who undertook the venture were put through a further process of humiliation that had a tremendous impact on their lives, and on the fortunes of both Cuba and the United States. Along with the political and historical consequences, the failed invasion would indirectly become the seed for a criminal underworld in America known as the Corporation.
This criminal enterprise was based on bolita, the numbers racket. Under the stewardship of Battle and others, it would become a multibilliondollar operation. But the venture never shook its roots as an undertaking based in the politics of revolution and exile. The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion would spawn further attempts to kill Castro and overthrow the Cuban government. These secret plots were undertaken by an alliance between the CIA and militant Cuban exiles, many of whom were veterans of the invasion. This narrative thread would run through American Cold War history like a tripwire, a bomb ready to explode. The Watergate burglary, political assassinations in the United States and overseas, the Iran-Contra scandal—these were just a few of the events that grew out of the anti-Castro movement, which became a catchphrase to describe many anticommunist efforts of the CIA throughout the second half of the twentieth century.
The story of the Corporation takes place in the shadow of this larger political narrative. The anti-Castro legacy is the context for the story of Cuban American organized crime, which rivaled the Mafia in its scope and body count.
More than just a criminal operation, the Corporation was a way of life for those who became involved in it.
José Miguel Battle Sr. rose from being a vice cop in Havana to being the Godfather—El Padrino—in America, but the story of the Corporation involves much more than one charismatic Mob boss. More than just a criminal operation, the Corporation was a way of life for those who became involved in it. There were the boliteros and gangsters, and the many lawmen who, over the years, became part of the effort to bring them down. There were also wives, girlfriends, sons, daughters, cousins, crime victims, snitches for the police, undercover agents—an entire generation of people who became caught up in an outrageous criminal history that lasted for nearly forty years.
Initially, cops in the United States trod lightly when it came to the Cuban Mob. Along the way, Battle and other individuals were prosecuted, but not for being part of a criminal conspiracy. In some cases cops were bought off, and in others it was because the Corporation had a certain mystique. Links to the CIA and the underground anti-Castro movement through organization such as Alpha 66 and Omega 7, groups that carried out political assassinations in the United States and South America, made it seem as though the Corporation was untouchable. Over time, law enforcement zeroed in. In courtrooms in New York and Miami, the Corporation was bled dry and dismantled through indictments and convictions.
This book chronicles the rise and fall of Battle’s organization from the Bay of Pigs invasion to the present day. Along the way, Cuban gangsters forged a partnership with the Mafia and then went to war with the Italians over control of lucrative numbers parlors in New York. This war was bloody, with much collateral damage. Eventually, mayhem and murder became a way of life, with revenge plots that spanned many years and wild shootouts on the streets of Miami’s Little Havana and all around New York City and New Jersey.
Though the main character of the story is El Padrino, this saga unfolds through a kaleidoscope of characters, male and female, and from many points of view. The canvas is large, because the story of the Corporation is the story not only of a criminal enterprise but also of a generation and a culture defining itself through a brutal version of the American experience.
The story of Cuban organized crime in America has never been fully told. For some, its parameters might seem exotic—murder plots are hatched at cockfights in Key Largo and carried out at Latin nightclubs in Harlem or Little Havana, all of it set to an Afro-Cuban beat. But the truth is that the narrative at play in the story of the Corporation adheres to a cherished American archetype. Irish, Italian, and Jewish gangsters have blazed this trail before, and newer versions of ethnic underworlds—African American, Asian, Mexican—have added their own unique flavors. The Horatio Alger myth—the self-aggrandizing trajectory of rags to riches, topped off with a dash of rosy optimism and American exceptionalism—may be the preferable myth to some. But stories of organized crime and the underworld are just as deeply rooted. And so room must finally be made on the shelf for this Cuban version of the classic American story.