The Cuban Connection

The Cuban Connection: Drug Trafficking, Smuggling, and Gambling in Cuba from the 1920s to the Revolution

Eduardo Sáenz Rovner
Translated by Russ Davidson
Copyright Date: 2008
DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Cuban Connection
    Book Description:

    A comprehensive history of crime and corruption in Cuba,The Cuban Connectionchallenges the common view that widespread poverty and geographic proximity to the United States were the prime reasons for soaring rates of drug trafficking, smuggling, gambling, and prostitution in the tumultuous decades preceding the Cuban revolution. Eduardo Saenz Rovner argues that Cuba's historically well-established integration into international migration, commerce, and transportation networks combined with political instability and rampant official corruption to help lay the foundation for the development of organized crime structures powerful enough to affect Cuba's domestic and foreign politics and its very identity as a nation.Saenz traces the routes taken around the world by traffickers and smugglers. After Cuba, the most important player in this story is the United States. The involvement of gangsters and corrupt U.S. officials and businessmen enabled prohibited substances to reach a strong market in the United States, from rum running during Prohibition to increased demand for narcotics during the Cold War. Originally published in Colombia in 2005, this first English-language edition has been revised and updated by the author.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0572-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.4

    At the end of December 1956, two Colombian brothers, Rafael and Tomás Herrán Olózaga, were apprehended in Havana while holding a shipment of heroin valued at sixteen thousand dollars. The brothers, a chemist and pilot, respectively, were twins who hailed from elite families in Bogotá and Medellín. Their paternal great-great-grandfather, Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, and great-grandfather, Pedro Alcántara Herrán, had served as presidents of Colombia during the nineteenth century. On their mother’s side, they were closely related to the Echavarría Olózaga family, which formed part of Medellín’s leading industrial clan.¹

    The brothers had arrived in Havana on 1 November 1956,...

  5. Chapter 1 U.S. Prohibition and Smuggling from Cuba
    (pp. 17-30)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.5

    In 1914, the U.S. Congress received a flood of petitions, signed by 6 million people, urging it to ban alcoholic beverages.¹ Six years later, a constitutional amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages across the United States went into effect. With these actions, the era of Prohibition had arrived in the United States; it lasted for nearly a decade and a half.

    Yet civic and religious campaigns against alcohol consumption were hardly new to the country. They had flared sporadically since the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Protestant ministers began to preach against the practice of imbibing...

  6. Chapter 2 Drug Trafficking and Political Anarchy during the 1930s
    (pp. 31-44)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.6

    In 1933 and 1934, Cuba underwent revolutions, creating a climate of political anarchy. The situation, coupled with a legal system of dubious integrity, intensified the country’s high level of illegal activity in general and its drug trafficking problem in particular.¹ In opposing the government of President Gerardo Machado, the group known as ABC resorted to sabotage, terrorism, and political assassination.² Beginning in 1930, ABC and other groups opposed to Machado created an atmosphere of terror in Havana by exploding bombs and assassinating political enemies.³ According to Frank Argote-Freyre, “The secret societies initiated an extensive campaign of urban warfare and terror...

  7. Chapter 3 The Chinese and Opium Consumption in Cuba
    (pp. 45-56)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.7

    Opium had been used in China as a medicinal drug since the ninth century, hundreds of years before the European empires established colonial beachheads there. In the sixteenth century, the Portuguese began to use opium as well as precious metals, tobacco, and spirits such as brandy to obtain Chinese silk, tea, and spices. By the advent of the nineteenth century, opium use had become very common in China as a consequence of the deliberate dissemination of the drug by both Western interlopers and the Chinese themselves. The former included the British East India Company as well as French, Dutch, and...

  8. Chapter 4 Corruption and Drug Trafficking in Cuba during the Second World War and the Early Postwar Years
    (pp. 57-64)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.8

    At the end of 1942, as the United States marked the first anniversary of its entrance into the Second World War, agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) found a quantity of morphine and cocaine from Cuba in Kansas City. The drugs had been siphoned from legally imported quotas and then brought back clandestinely into the United States.¹ Based on this case, the FBN decided that it would no longer grant permits for the export of legal shipments of drugs from the United States to Cuba. Such a policy presumably would prevent the drugs from being diverted to illegal...

  9. Chapter 5 Lucky Luciano in Cuba
    (pp. 65-74)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.9

    In 1936, Salvatore Lucania, better known as Lucky Luciano, was convicted on charges of running a prostitution ring in New York City and sentenced to between thirty and fifty years in prison. Luciano had been born in Sicily but in 1906 moved with his family to the United States, where he climbed through the ranks of organized crime to become the head of the New York syndicate. The man who prosecuted the case against Luciano and fifteen of his mobster associates was Thomas E. Dewey, then serving as New York City’s district attorney, and the long sentences the men received...

  10. Chapter 6 The Prío Socarrás Government and Drug Trafficking
    (pp. 75-80)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.10

    Under the government of President Carlos Prío Socarrás (1948–52), Cuba’s reports to the United Nations continued to maintain that the country’s drug problem involved primarily marijuana and a very limited amount of morphine and that the problem primarily affected lower-class elements of society.¹ Thus, for example, one report asserted that “the drug that addicts use most heavily is marijuana . . . out of Mexico, which, because it costs the least is used the most.” The report continued that such findings were hardly surprising, “given that the majority of those using it are from the country’s lower class.” The...

  11. Chapter 7 Gambling in Cuba
    (pp. 81-94)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.11

    In January 1950, Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver introduced a congressional resolution calling for a formal investigation into the network of organized crime in the United States. Kefauver was responding in part to an appeal made by the mayors of New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Portland for federal intercession to expose and combat syndicated crime. The American Municipal Association had expressed the mayors’ concerns to the U.S. Department of Justice in December 1949, claiming that “the problem is too massive to be dealt with solely by local authorities; organized crime elements operate across state borders, on a national scale.” The U.S....

  12. Chapter 8 The Andean Connection
    (pp. 95-102)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.12

    The 1940s and 1950s saw the furtherance of trade in illegal drugs within a triangle connecting the Andean countries, Cuba, and the United States. Both Cuban drug traffickers and their Andean counterparts, a large majority of them foreign-born immigrants, were very opportunistic, time and again demonstrating the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to contest and deflect U.S. pressure against drug trafficking.

    THE EMERGENCE of the Andean countries in particular, Peru on the hemispheric drug trafficking scene was related in a circuitous way to economic and political developments in the Far East. The first link in the chain appeared...

  13. Chapter 9 Contacts in France
    (pp. 103-112)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.13

    Even before Cuba became a focal point on the international drug scene, the Mediterranean port of Marseille had been a center for narcotics processing and trafficking. Marseille was part of a chain of production that started in Asia: poppies cultivated and processed into opium paste in that part of the world made their way to French laboratories for conversion into heroin. Before reaching its eventual markets, the illegal heroin had first to be shipped through different transit points, and Cuba became a principal conduit through which the drug was smuggled to distributors in the United States.

    IN JULY 1930, Reginald...

  14. Chapter 10 The Batista Dictatorship and Drug Trafficking
    (pp. 113-122)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.14

    According to Harry J. Anslinger, the director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), while serving as Cuba’s dictator between 1952 and 1958, Fulgencio Batista failed to cooperate with U.S. antidrug efforts: “Our agents made more than fifty cases against Cuban pushers and dealers in the Batista era. The Batista government did nothing about putting these men in jail in spite of our co-operation in working with their own people to get the evidence.”¹ This lack of cooperation stemmed from the corruption that existed more generally in Cuba during this period. As Louis A. Pérez has trenchantly written, “Millions...

  15. Chapter 11 Revolution
    (pp. 123-134)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.15

    As the guerrilla fighters of the 26 July Movement steadily gained the upper hand and achieved a series of military victories in different parts of the country, Fulgencio Batista, facing inevitable defeat, fled Havana shortly after midnight on 31 December 1958. In the aftermath of his departure and the collapse of his government, mobs roamed the city’s streets, destroying and looting parking meters, and invaded the casinos, where they plundered the slot machines.¹ The casinos of both the Sevilla Biltmore and Plaza hotels, situated in the heart of the capital, were laid to waste.² The magazineBohemiagot to the...

  16. Chapter 12 The Diplomacy of Drug Trafficking at the Beginning of the Revolution
    (pp. 135-146)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.16

    In early 1959, as the Cuban Revolution unfolded, Harry J. Anslinger, director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), demanded that the new government deport the mafia bosses who administered the island’s casinos, asserting that they were directly responsible for importing drugs from Cuba to the United States. Fidel Castro shrewdly parried Anslinger’s demand by asking for a list of the traffickers and stating that he was disposed not to deport them but to have them brought before a firing squad.¹ He also pointed out that he believed that the Cubans who had sought refuge in the United States...

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 147-152)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807888582_saenz_rovner.17

    The foreign traffickers who smuggled drugs from either Europe or Latin America to the United States using Cuba as a transit point abandoned the island after the revolution and relocated in other countries. Corsican Paul Mondolini left Cuba for Madrid in January 1960, returned to Havana at the beginning of the next month, and then quickly left again, this time for Mexico City. Mondolini later met up with his Canadian associate, Lucien Rivard, in Acapulco. The two drug lords continued making trips to Mexico for some years to come.¹ Mondolini also maintained his heroin operations in France, as did Jean-Baptiste...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 153-210)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-236)
  20. Index
    (pp. 237-247)