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'Havana' Revisited: An American Gangster in Cuba

Jun 5, 2009 (Fresh Air from WHYY)

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Before the Cuban Revolution, a military dictatorship opened up the island nation to the American mob, which saw the island as a safe haven for gambling and prostitution. In the 1950s, Havana teemed with American tourists, who stayed in swank mob-owned hotels, gambled at casinos, danced the mambo at nightclubs and indulged their fantasies at live sex shows and bordellos.

T.J. English, author of Havana Nocturne, tells Fresh Air guest host Dave Davies that it was "extraordinary period" in Cuban history.

"What you saw were the wonderful hotels that had some really beautiful casinos, unlike anything that existed anywhere else in the world at that time," says English.

English believes the hedonism and sense of American exploitation fueled Castro's guerrilla movement, and eventually led to the downfall of the regime.

In addition to Havana Nocturne, English has written a number of other true-crime works. His book Paddy Whacked concerns the Irish mob and Born to Kill focuses on Vietnamese organized crime.

English has also written episodes for the television dramas Homicide: Life on the Streets and NYPD Blue. He shared a Humanitas Prize with David Simon and Julie Martin for his screenwriting.

This interview was first broadcast on July 3, 2008.

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