The Characters

Meyer Lansky: the Mafia’s Ambassador in Cuba

cuba mafia .com - Meyer Lansky, the Mafia's Ambassador in Cuba
"Always overpay your taxes. That way you'll get a refund"

The most important of all Mafia members in Cuba was the second boss of the American Mafia, Meyer Lansky, architect and head of the Havana Empire. Lansky was Jewish, born in Grozno, in the south of former czarist Russia, at the time Polish territory. He was taken to the United States by his parents in 1911. Later, Lansky shortened his surname - Maier Suchowijansky - to a more Americanized version. Word has it that Lansky had a practical intelligence, that he was clever and persuasive and preferred to act in the shadows. He was a close friend of Lucky Luciano since childhood - they had studied in the same school - and, when barely adolescents, they entered the New York underworld.

Agreements subscribed by the American Mafia and Colonel Batista towards the end of 1933 would be recalled in the following manner:
“Lansky traveled to Havana to meet with […] Cuba’s strong man […] and came back with gambling rights […] including control of the casino already operating in the Hotel Nacional […] There were other legal enterprises as well […] When Lansky and I began to talk about buying property, some looked at us as if we were insane […] Some could not see beyond their plateful of spaghetti […]”

Lucky Luciano: Our man in Havana

cuba mafia .com - Lucky Luciano

Lucky Luciano, born in Sicily, around 1930 and 1931 - after the death of Joe “the Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano -took upon himself the task of reorganising the old Mafia based in the United States; more that a hundred gangs of different origins were recast into twenty-four large groups which comprise the American Mafia today. He also used Cuba as a middle point between heroine supply sources and consumer markets in North America. The representative in Havana of these channels was Corsican Amleto Battisti Lora.

At the end of World War II, the American government, as part of its commitments, released Lucky Luciano of his sentence, in recognition of the services he rendered to American democracy; however Luciano hoped to settle in New York once again and to continue managing his businesses from there. However, it seems that other Mafiosi interests, headed by Don Vito Genovese - who aspired to become the new boss of the American Mafia - began moving their secret connections for the purpose of deporting Luciano back to old Sicily from where he could never return.

Santo Trafficante: Top Figure in Organised Crime

cuba mafia .com - Santo Trafficante

Sicilian Santo Trafficante - father and son organised gambling in the south of the United States- both had long experience. Trafficante was the second boss of the Havana Empire, the front man of American mafia affairs in Cuba, with operational headquarters in the famous Sans Souci nightclub located on 51st Avenue.

Since the 1930s, thirty years before cocaine became popular in the United States, Trafficante was in charge of the cocaine distribution channels from the city of Medellin in Colombia to enchanting Havana.  They even incorporated airlines especially for this purpose, operating from military airports, using equipment and technicians from the Cuban air force and with the blessing and support of the different political groups of the moment. They also controlled the network of fabulous casinos in Havana and “educated” prostitution, but above all, the lucrative cocaine business.

Amleto Battisti Lora: The King of Gambling in Havana

Tall, thin, slender, with an elegance contrived through sobriety and only a stark ring on his finger, never a tiepin or even a watch on his wrist, Amleto Battisti, a slow speaker, always piercingly attentive of his interlocutor, with his shining crescent-shaped bald head, looks like a young French Foreign Minister or a lecturing professor of immaculate appearance -mimicking Bergson´s style - well-loved by feminine audiences. The suggestive image of his figure could be multiplied in atmospheres of courtesy, diplomacy, exclusive gatherings, artistic circles, in short, refinement. However, comparative imagination falls short in an attempt to somehow associate the appearance of the man with his specific activity.

In summary, that Amleto Battisti physically resembles anything except what he really is: a businessman. Neither his silhouette, apparently Gallic in style, the attention with which he listens, his imperturbable serenity, minimal gestures or constantly muffled voice suggest that his mind is a mind of numbers, of probabilities and risks, of profits and losses.

Joe Stassi, the day-to-day manager of the Mob in Havana

Joe Stassi was the day-to-day manager of the Mob in Havana. He was seen as being a neutral figure, friendly to all parties in Cuba. The weekly Havana Mob meetings were held at his house which was seen as neutral ground. By the late 50's he was, at Lanksy's urging, very much on the business side of organised crime but he had, in his youth, been a feared assassin and enforcer once shooting his best friend at point blank range after being ordered to by his bosses.

In reality Stassi was a trusted associate of Lansky's. It was to Stassi's house that Lanksy sent all the winnings that he could save as chaos overran Havana on the night of Dec31/Jan1 1959. It was Stassi who travelled to New York in 1957 to organise the assassination of Anastasia.

Don Amadeo Barletta: the Undercover Spy

cuba mafia .com - Don Amadeo Barletta

The family of Calabrian Amadeo Barletta Barletta built the greatest pyramidal criminal organisation we have news of. Barletta emerged in Havana at the end of the twenties, representing the economic interests of the Mussolini family in America. However, things became increasingly complicated until it was discovered that he was a double agent working for both Italian and American intelligence services from the Caribbean area.

In 1942, tracked down by the Federal Bureau of Investigations - which included him in its black list on February 7, 1942 - he managed to escape to South America, thanks to his numerous contacts. Warned by intelligence-mafia groups in Havana, he escaped from the island and secretly took refuge in Argentina, however in 1946, at the end of World War II, he reappeared in the Cuban capital, this time as representative of large US companies, including General Motors. In a few years he had built a prodigious empire consisting of casinos, renowned nightclubs, banks and dozens of front companies in the most diverse branches of economy and finances. He opened Cuban television Channel 2, controlled radio stations and the El Mundo newspaper.

Al Capone

cuba mafia .com - Al Capone

From 1920 to 1933 the so-called Dry Law was in force in the U.S. During those years the majority of the alcoholic goods that entered U.S. territory came from the Antilles, Cuba among them.

Al Capone reached an agreement with the authorities and from then on the coast guards and shore police became implacable pursuers of the pirates, while they gave the green light to those who worked for Capone.

Capone had a liking for women and a passion for publicity inconceivable in a Mafia boss. He liked people to talk about him and repeat his name.

In the Havana Hotel Sevilla, where he stayed, he rented a whole floor for himself, his bodyguards and advisers. Likewise, popular legend says he asked to meet all the employees in charge of that floor. He had little to say to them, but congratulated each with a hundred dollar bill.

Little is known about Capone’s doings in Havana. However, it is known that one afternoon he purchased three Patek Philippe watches at Le Palais Royal in Calle Obispo, probably the most important jewelers of the time. He paid six thousand dollars for them. Capone kept one for himself; the second he gave to the head of his guards, and the third, as already mentioned, would be for Rafael Guas Inclán who from 1954 to 1958 was vice-president of the Republic during Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship.

As far as known, Al Capone never returned to Cuba after that 1928 visit. In spite of being invited, he couldn’t attend the meeting called by Luciano, at Havana’s Hotel Nacional, together with the other main Mafia bosses in December 1946. He had just gotten out of prison, after finishing his sentence for tax evasion, and was already very sick.
Want to know
more about the Empire of Havana?
"We invented Havana, and we can goddamn well move it someplace else if Batista can't control it.' - Meyer Lansky in Sydney Pollack's film 'Havana"

The Mafia in Havana - Enrique Cirules

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