Have you ever thought that this marvelous city that is Havana was linked to the mafia and organized crime?
We already know that Havana looks like a movie set, with its elegant cars and the decadent luxury of its facades. And that's just how it seemed in the 1920s, '30s, '40s, and '50s:
A film, but a real one, starring gangsters, where corruption, gambling, casinos, drugs, alcohol and the organized mafia were a natural part of the scene of debauchery in the city.
When the most dangerous gangsters walked through Havana
The organized mafia in the United States began its activities in Cuba in the early 1920s, trafficking rum and other alcoholic beverages.
Many of the most dangerous gangsters of the 20th century walked through the streets of the Havana city. The operations were organized under the supervision of four families led by Corsican Amleto Battisti, Amadeo Barletta Barletta, Santo Trafficante (father) and Meyer Lansky himself.
The triumph of the Revolution in 1959 meant a setback for the mafia that controlled Batista's corrupt Cuba, as the new government assumed ownership of all the premises that were dominated by the bosses and their henchmen.
In this way, the mafia in Cuba was losing its main figures, who left in search of new destinations to create their empires, although nothing could ever be compared to Havana.
if you wonder what to do in Cuba?During your visit to the Cuban capital, do not forget to visit these emblematic sites that we propose below, because even today they preserve, from their architecture, decoration and their spaces, all the character of an era and of the controversial characters that starred in it.
1 Hotel Nacional, headquarters of the gangsters in Cuba
The Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which has been chosen as the Cuba's leading hotel by the World Travel Awards in 2020, is like going back in time to fully enter into the golden age of Hollywoood and the Cuba of the 50s.
This National Monument of colonial and historical air is our special recommendation to start a tour around modern Havana.
The Hotel Nacional de Cuba was built in the early 1930s, inspired by the design of the Hotel Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida.
Famous figures such as Winston Churchill or great figures of the American mafia have passed through its facilities. Also guests were The Prince of Wales Edward VIII, the writer Rómulo Gallegos, María Félix, Fred Astaire, Nat King Cole and a long list that spans to the present day.
It was the year 1946 when the Hotel Nacional de Cuba hosted what was called the great meeting of the mafia. The hotel closed its doors under the guise of a Frank Sinatra concert to accommodate the most famous families of the American mafia. Among those present were Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello.
The casino that housed this hotel, which was one of the most recognized and lucrative in all of Cuba, was converted into the Cabaret Parisien, opened by the famous American singer and actress Eartha Kittm.
2 Hotel Capri, movie set
The Hotel Capri, located about 200 meters from the Hotel Nacional and very close to what was the Hotel Havana Hilton (today Habana Libre), was also built with money from the mafia and following the modernist pattern prevailing in the 50s.
Subsequently, the hotel and the panoramic pool bar on the terrace were the setting for films such as ?Our man in Havana? by Carol Reed and ?I am Cuba? by Mikhail Kalatazov. Another of the monumental and historical hotels in Cuba that you cannot miss.
Today, it is a 4-star hotel operated by the NH chain.
3 Hotel Riviera, Meyer Lansky's favorite modern giant
The Hotel Riviera, today operated by the Iberostar chain and one of the oldest in the Cuban capital, was the site chosen by the American mobster Meyer Lansky to establish his headquarters in Havana.
It was the best luxury hotel in Cuba in the 50s and one of the accommodations for couples most popular on the island.
Its opening was celebrated in December 1957, with a musical performance presented at the Cabaret Copa Room with Ginger Rogers on stage.
The Riviera hotel has been visited by celebrities from different fields such as Alain Delon, Olga Guillot, Chucho Valdés, Alicia Alonso, the poet Roque Dalton, Rocky Marciano, Kid Chocolate, Gabriel García Márquez, the American Ángela Davis and the first female cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova , among others.
4 The Dupont House, a mafia paradise in Varadero
The emblematic and imposing Xanadu Mansion or Dupont House, as it is also known, is an icon of Varadero, the most famous seaside resort in Cuba.
It is said that this man allied with the mafia to establish in Varadero "a multimillion-dollar era of tourism, with dozens of luxurious hotels overlooking the Straits of Florida, with private clubs for large families from the north, with roulette, baccarat and poker, with private docks without customs. A paradise of the mafia and the American industrial aristocracy, where everything burned in the blue flame of brandy.»
Built almost a century ago in the Peña San Bernardino, the highest point of the tourist town, very close to the beautiful "Playa Las Américas", it is a place full of wonders and stories that surround the visitor.
The original decoration, which remains intact, is related to the marine environment. In the furniture, lamps and on the terrace you can see sea horses, fish, nautical roses, rudders or sailboats.
It is stated that, if observed from the coast, the building resembles a ship. At its two ends it shows the green and red lanterns that in nautical language indicate port and starboard.
In 1997 it was chosen as Varadero Golf Club, having 18 holes of 72 par, in about 6,856 yards.
When you imagine yourself enjoying a delicious fresh lobster, on a charming terrace, by the sea, this is the place you must visit.
5 Cabaret Tropicana, trending night club forever
Considered the most famous nightclub in Cuba, Tropicana is an identity product of the country and somehow represents that typical Cuban sensuality.
A night club that welcomed, during the republican period, mobsters, politicians and Hollywood artists who came to play, drink and close their businesses.
Many of you may think that it is an unnecessary expense of money to attend a Show from Tropicana, or that you are not going to witness an authentic representation of Cuban culture. But the fact is that this cabaret is as associated with Cuba as coffee, rum or tobacco.
This site is unique for enjoying Cuban folklore at full speed and color, as it is one of the most popular Cuban musical shows worldwide.
When you talk about dance in Havana, to the rhythm of live music on a frenetic night, Tropicana is that paradise under the stars that you cannot miss.
Of the price packages offered by the cabaret, we will manage the best option for you, so that you can watch the show from a privileged position.
While the stunning dancers of Tropicana wear just the minimum amount of clothing on their bodies, there is a rigorous dress code for the audience. Formal wear is imperative.
6 Hotel Sevilla, traces of the mafia in the heart of Havana
This Mudejar-style building, which was inaugurated in 1908, stands very close to the Central Park and with views of the Paseo del Prado.
In 1930 Amletto Battisti, a Uruguayan of Italian origin, acquired the hotel, in which he built a casino, which he partially traded to Santo Trafficante Jr.
Various personalities were guests of this jewel of Cuban architecture: the Spanish painter José Maria López Mesquita; Al Capone, who stayed with his entire entourage on the sixth floor of the hotel; or the Italian singer Enrico Caruso.
If you are out for a walk colonial Havana, come to the Sevillian patio of this hotel, or to its restaurant roof garden, so that you can enjoy an amazing view, and if you want to know the coolest terraces in Havana, follow the link.
TRAVEL TO CUBA
So, if you are thinking of organizing a trip to Cuba, either for travel as a family , with your group of friends or with your classmates , with your partner or even in honeymoon , on your own or in one of our tailor-made trips , be sure to follow our recommendations for travel to Cuba without complications and to know the evolution of the Covid-19 situation in Cuba.We suggest some of our most popular organized tours most popular, and, if it is not what you were looking for, we design your personalized trip, and above all, we suggest that you let yourself be carried away by our advice to Live the authentic Cuban culture. Now you also know some emblematic places in the recent history of Cuba to visit!
Article written by Gabriela Rodríguez, an independent guide to Cuba.
Video produced and edited by Javier Ernesto Hernández-López.