In the late 1950s, I worked as a chauffeur for Jack DiMarco. He owned a huge night club on the Tamiami Trail in Miami and was reported to be the underworld’s “boss” of Miami. Ironically, my father was one of the chauffeurs for the "boss" of New Jersey Mayor Hague of Jersey city in the ‘30s and was a good friend of DiMarco.
One day Jack introduced me to two friends of his, Harry and Alfonso. Harry looked like Joe Palooka and appeared to be as dumb. Alfonso looked like a freedom fighter wearing a suit and was a member of the Cuban consulate in Miami.
Harry said he sold and repaired yachts at a local boat shop and wanted to know if I wanted to take a test ride with him and Alfonso to Cuba. It sounded good to me.
It was late on a Friday night. I made my way to the boat slip and noticed Harry loading wooden boxes onto the deck of the yacht and another man was stacking them up in the cabins below. Alfonso kept a keen eye on both of them. By the time they were finished there was barley enough room for us to stand on the deck.
Harry carefully maneuvered the mini-ship to the open waters, we headed straight for Cuba and I unwittingly became a gun-runner.
About two miles off the coast of Havana, another luxury yacht joined us and we followed it into a small harbor. There, the guns and ammunitions were unloaded by men from Castro’s revolutionary army. After the boat was unloaded we took on a different kind of cargo for our return trip - women.
At the time, Fulgencio Batista was the dictator in Cuba. He was a gangster and dealt in anything that was profitable, legal or illegal. He bought young girls from their destitute parents in Cuba and sold them to the flesh dealers in Miami. Once the girls arrived in Miami, they were sent to underworld strongholds in Cleveland, Detroit, New York City and Chicago. There, they were sold as live-in domestic servants, dancers and prostitutes.
However, the biggest crook in Havana wasn’t Batista; it was Meyer Lansky. By the time Lansky was a sixth-grader on Manhattan’s east side, he formed a gang that included “Bugsy” Siegel, “Doc” Stacher and the Sicilian “Lucky Luciano.” As adults and with a little help from their friends, they would create the basis for the biggest legal and illegal gambling business in the world.
One of Batista’s biggest mistakes was hiring Lansky to manage his gambling business. In 1953, Lansky took over the Hotel National and in 1956 he built his own hotel-casino, the Riviera.
Many different stories have been told about the deals between the east coast gangsters and Batista. But, the one that makes sense is that Batista crossed Lansky, the mafia and the United States government. The U.S., upset with Batista, financed Fidel Castro’s revolution and supplied him with guns and ammunition to overthrow the dictator Batista. On Jan. 8, 1959, Castro took over the streets of Havana.
Little did anyone know that in October of 1960, Castro would confiscate and nationalize the Riviera and 165 other American enterprises in Cuba.
The United States retaliated with a token embargo against Cuba. The gamblers left and took over Las Vegas.
Castro then formed a political and economic bond with the U.S.S.R. and, on April 16, 1961, announced that Cuba was a socialist state.
It wasn’t the first time Castro tried to defeat Batista. In July of 1953, Castro launched an armed attack against Batista that failed. He was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. For whatever reason, Batista pardoned him in 1955. Castro immediately proceeded to plan the overthrow of Batista.
The United States was determined to break the alliance Cuba had with Russia. We didn't want Russian influence or power that close to our coastline, so on April 19, 1961, the CIA backed Cuban exiles, who were supposed to “take back” their country. Instead, they were defeated at the Bay of Pigs. The U.S. punished Castro for his embarrassing victory by imposing a full-trade embargo on Cuba in 1962.
It is interesting. We didn’t want Russian influence too close to our boundaries. Yet, we can go to Kosovo and spread our influence in a Russian stronghold in Europe.
What is even more interesting is that we are opposed to communism and the one-party system, but many of the planks of the Communist Manifesto are similar to ours, such as: a heavily progressive or graduated income tax; the centralizing of credit by means of national bank with state capitol, similar to our Federal Reserve; the centralization of benevolent communications and transports, similar to our government agencies and regulations; a gradual abolition of town and counties replaced by a more equitable distribution of population. Isn’t that what our planning departments do? Free education for all children in public schools and the abolition of children's labor in factories. Certainly sounds like the American way to me.
Castro, wanting the best for his people living under the thumb of the U.S. embargo, went a step further and provided free heath care for every citizen in Cuba, which is more than our democracy provides for us.
If we didn’t isolate Castro with an embargo because we feared a successful communistic state and gave his system a chance to work with the proper resources, the poor people of Cuba would have a flourishing society today with a one-party political system and a capitalistic economy. And if you think that combination doesn’t work, then look at China.
So everything considered, maybe Castro was a benevolent dictator and really wasn’t so bad after all.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.