Meyer Lansky’s Heirs Want Money from Cuba

A curious twist in the renewed U.S.-Cuban relations is the claim by Mafia financier Meyer Lansky’s heirs for damages from the loss of Lansky’s Havana casinos, which Fidel Castro nationalized after the revolution in 1959, writes Jack Colhoun.

By Jack Colhoun

The heirs of Meyer Lansky, the impresario of the North American Mafia gambling colony in Cuba, a reign that lasted from 1933 to 1958, are betting on a big payback from the negotiations between the United States and Cuba to normalize relations between the two countries.

Compensation claims by U.S. citizens or businesses for properties nationalized by the Cuban revolution are among the issues under discussion. Lansky’s daughter Sandi, her son Gary Rapoport, and her brother Paul have filed a compensation claim against Cuba for the Riviera Hotel and Casino with the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.

Mafia figure Meyer Lansky.

Mafia figure Meyer Lansky.

The Cuban revolution confiscated the Riviera and other Mafia-owned properties after it toppled the gangster-linked regime of General Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

“It was through my grandfather’s hard work that the hotel was built,” Rapoport told the U. K. Daily Mail Online on Dec. 23, 2015. “We are his natural relations . . . . By right, it should be our property.” He said the Riviera is valued at $70 million. The Tampa Bay Tribune, Reuters, and Haaretz have also covered the story. (Lansky died in 1983 at the age of 80 from lung cancer, living his final years quietly in Miami Beach.)

The Riviera, which overlooks the Straits of Florida, was the crown jewel of Lansky’s casinos, hotels and nightclubs in Havana. When the Riviera opened in December 1957, it was the largest Mafia-owned hotel-casino outside Las Vegas. The hotel’s 440 double rooms were booked solid for the winter season of 1957-1958.

However, the narrative that the success of the Riviera was the product of Meyer Lansky’s “hard work” is undercut by Lansky’s own assessment of his arrangement with Batista. Lansky talked candidly about his years in Cuba with Israeli national security writers Dennis Eisenberg, Uri Dan, and Eli Landau for their admiring biography Meyer Lansky: Mogul of the Mob (Paddington Press, 1979). (Lansky lived in Israel in 1970-1971 to avoid tax evasion charges in the United States.)

Lansky pitched his plan to Batista to open Mafia owned casinos and nightclubs in Cuba in 1933. Lansky promised to make Batista, who had just come to power in a coup d’etat, a partner. Batista and his inner circle would get regular payments from the Mafia gamblers. In return, the gangsters would be allowed to operate without interference from Cuban authorities. With a handshake and an abrazo, Lansky and Batista laid the foundations of the Cuban gangster state.

“Working on the well-known principle that it’s better to use other people’s money than your own, Lansky persuaded Batista to have the Cuban government help finance the venture,” Eisenberg, Dan, and Landau wrote. “The [Cuban] government agreed to back every dollar invested on the island by foreigners with a dollar of its own and to give every hotel that cost more than one million dollars the precious prize of a gambling license . . . and the casino hotels would not have to pay Cuban taxes.”

Lansky’s Crown Jewel

The Riviera was one of four new hotels with casinos, which opened in Havana between 1955 and 1958. Cuban development banks subsidized 50 percent of Lansky’s $14 million Riviera project; Lansky-linked investors provided the rest. Senator Eduardo Suarez Rivas, brother of Batista’s Minister of Labor Jose Suarez Rivas, was secretary of the Compania de Hotels La Riviera de Cuba, which operated the Riviera.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2003. (Photo credit: Antonio Milena - ABr)

Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2003. (Photo credit: Antonio Milena – ABr)

The Mafia gambling colony was the cornerstone of the Cuban gangster state. The gangsters’ graft bound Batista, his inner circle, senior security officers, and the Mafia together in the defense of one of the most repressive regimes in Latin America. As a CIA report put it, “In return for the loyalty they gave him, Batista always backed his security services. In times of crisis, he often suspended civil guarantees . . . and gave the services a free hand.”

In 1958, Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement denounced the Mafia in radio broadcasts from the guerrilla group’s redoubt in the Sierra Maestra, accusing the Mafia of turning Havana into a center of commercialized vice – gambling, prostitution, and drugs. The days of the North American gangsters in Cuba were numbered when Batista fled into exile on Jan. 1, 1959. When Castro arrived in Havana on Jan. 8, he vowed to “clean out all the gamblers.”

The Riviera and other gangster-owned properties were nationalized, and the Mafia gamblers returned to the United States. To regain control of its casinos, hotels and nightclubs in post-Castro Cuba, the Mafia waged a covert war on the Cuban revolution. The gangsters regrouped with their Cuban political allies, now in exile in the United States. The Mafia subsidized Cuban exile leaders and supplied arms to Cuban exile commando groups for attacks on Cuban targets from speedy boats and small aircraft.

The gangsters also plotted with the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro.In 1959, Lansky volunteered to arrange the assassination of Castro in a meeting with the CIA, according to Doc Stacher, a life-long Lansky associate.

“He [Lansky] indicated to the CIA that some of his people who were still on the island, or those who were just going back, might assassinate Castro,” Stacher told his Israeli biographers. “Meyer Lansky thought that if Castro would be eliminated there was a good chance for Batista to make a comeback. . . . He told them [CIA officers] he was quite prepared to finance the operation himself.”

From 1960 to 1963, the CIA and the Mafia plotted covertly to assassinate Castro. So, to portray Lansky as an aggrieved victim of Cuba is to stand history on its head. There should be no compensation for the heirs of the former Mafia gamblers in Cuba.

Jack Colhoun is an historian of the Cold War (University of Wisconsin, Madison, BA, 1968; York University, Toronto, PhD, 1976), an investigative reporter, and professional archival researcher. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Toronto Star, Salon, History News Network, The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, the former (New York) Guardian newsweekly, and former Covert Action Quarterly. He is the author of Gangsterismo: The United States, Cuba, and the Mafia, 1933-1966 (New York: OR Books, 2013). [This article previously appeared at http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/162856]

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27 comments for “Meyer Lansky’s Heirs Want Money from Cuba

  1. Joe Tedesky
    June 25, 2016 at 10:42 am

    I have always found it a curious thing, that the Cuba Nationals and the American Mafia are always linked to the JFK assassination, but never, or hardly ever a mention of Meyer Lansky. I also believe, for those who want to link Israel to the Kennedy murder, that if Israel were involved, well look no further than Lansky.

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      June 25, 2016 at 6:41 pm

      Just because this guy helped American and Israeli intelligence agencies against Cuba doesn’t mean that he is evidence for Israel killing JFK. That is an emotional argument, and it is a non-sequitur.

      • Joe Tedesky
        June 26, 2016 at 10:58 am

        I don’t think Israel was anything more than a spectator, if even that. I wrote that, because in the past I have had this discussion about Israel’s involvement, or no involvement, with that crime. Although, I do believe that Lansky would have had knowledge of the plot. I doubt that even if that Lansky is not an important player to consider him to be a part of the coup. For all I know Lansky may have been upset with JFK’s assassination.

      • tony
        June 27, 2016 at 7:50 am

        Read ‘Final Judgment’, by Michael Collins Piper

        • Rob
          June 27, 2016 at 10:41 am

          Hope those who want to know what really happened to JFK read the above recommended (and the most banned book in America) “Final Judgement”

          Jack Ruby worked for Mob boss Santo Trafficante who had direct links to Lansky who was a staunch Zionist and friend of Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. Kennedy insisted that Israel not pursue its plans for nuclear weapons. Ben Gurion sent Mossad agents at the request of Lansky to do the shooting. Israel now has its Nuclear facility (which it denies) at Dimona in the Negev Desert. Easy to google. See Mordechai Vanunu who was imprisoned by Israel for exposing Dimona to the British Press. Think about Netenyahu’s hyprocracy re Iran which has no facility.

          For those who insist that Israel had nothing to do with Kennedy’s shooting just join the dots. Remember who shot Bobby Kennedy.He openly was after the Mafia, and his brothers killers and was nominated as the Democratic presidential canditate? The killer was a supposedly a deranged killer, ironically from Palestinian. Sirhan Sirhan. How convenient. Talk about achieving multiple objectives concurrently.

          JFK was also about to push to end the Vietnam war so the Military Industrial complex with the help of Johnson, and CIA agent James Jesus Angleton assisted in the murder and the cover up with misinformation. It was convenient for Israel who wanted the heat taken out of the wars it was stoking in the Middle East by focusing on Vietnam.

          It is Anti Semitic to suggest Israel is culpable in any way but people are waking up to her crimes.

    • June 27, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      people have to remember that Meyer Lansky was a Jew. You are right. the Kennedy assassination has been kinked to Israel, the Mafia, in particular Lansky and there are reports that expose Rafael Bienvenido Cruz (Ted Cruz father) in the Kennedy’s murder. He has been shown in many books and magazines distributing pamphlets with Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans. Oswald was just the patsy, the fall guy but behind him there was a whole world of devils from hell who contributed to the Kennedy’s killing. Israel, CIA, Mafia (Lansky the boss) in between them.

  2. June 25, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Fabian Escalante reports on over 600 assassination attempts on Castro. Read his book!
    JFK was of course taken out by the CIA. Why mention the Soviets and Cuba?The Mafia?Yes they might have played a part providing the shooters. There is endless documentation available nowadays.
    And don’t forget Peter Janney’s recent book on the murder of Mary Meyer Pinchot. CIA again all over the place.
    Case Closed? Posner will help you.

  3. David Smith
    June 25, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Lansky’s or his heirs have zero claim. Nationalization does require compensation, however when Lansky became a co-conspirator in acts of terrorism, he became an egregious criminal. All nations confiscate assets of convicted felons to cover court costs or to provide compensation to victims of the criminal. Lansky and any other American business entities that collaborated in terrorists acts/acts of war against Cuba not only forfiet their assets in Cuba but also owe additional compensation. This goes double for the expatriate anti-Castro Cubans who have committed multiple acts of treason, by direct acts or material support of acts of terror and acts of war against Cuba. The United States Government and private US corporations(though material aid) also owe compensation.

    • John J Dozier Jr
      June 25, 2016 at 11:57 am

      I would think it falls under unclean hands doctrine.

      • David Smith
        June 25, 2016 at 12:24 pm

        Thanks for that, I learned something new. My comment then was providing “the burden of proof” required by unclean hands doctrine.

  4. Marshalldoc
    June 25, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Haven’t read the text, can’t stop laughing over the headline!! What next? Capone’s relatives suing the City of Chicago for lost income from the bootlegging industry? Has everyone gone insane? Cuba should invite the Lansky heirs to Cuba to ‘talk about their claims’ and then jail ’em and try ’em for crimes against the Cuban People!

    • ?????????
      June 27, 2016 at 8:32 pm

      hahahahahaha!
      But they are jews.
      No credit whatsoever, about these criminals

  5. Tony Mike
    June 25, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    Bravo to Mr. Smith for a spot on analysis about the role of international terrorism by lansky and his terror cells against Cuba and the Cuban people. There is no claim here but I am sure that the courts in the US will grant some type of claim to the benefit of the gangster’s heirs.

  6. Drew Hunkins
    June 25, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Lansky and his fascist gangster cronies owe the Cuban people billions of dollars for crying out loud. Lansky and his Mafioso pals robbed, looted, pillaged and exploited Cuba with the potentate Bautista in their back pocket for years.

    Trafficante, Lansky et. al. treated Havana as their own little playground. This is the height of effrontery for the Lansky crime family to ask for anything.

  7. Jay
    June 25, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Joe:

    And Israel wasn’t involved in the assassination of JFK, no matter how much you want to believe that’s the case.

    • June 25, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      Israel/Ben Gurion/JFK:
      I suggest reading the books by Sy Hersh and Michael Collins Piper.
      Also interesting the Permindex/Bloomfield/Clay Shaw/CIA connection. …..endless conspiracies against the US of A. You may also check Jim Garrison. ….

  8. rosemerry
    June 25, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    How disgusting. This is like the payment of compensation to slave-owners whose slaves were “freed”. Why is Cuba getting into this sort of “agreement” with the criminals in the USA?

  9. Realist
    June 25, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    I guess that Little Marco will be interceding on behalf of these criminals once he reclaims the senate seat he so scorned. Since the American crooks were the allies of Battista and the Cuban oligarchs who fled to Florida, they must all still be comrades, especially since those oligarchs are Marco’s political base. Good luck finding a court in the world that will render a judgement in favor of these thugs. I would hope that even our skewed American Supreme Court would tell them to go pound sand.

  10. Bill Bodden
    June 25, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    Given White House – present and past – support for the Wall Street syndicate and other immoral enterprises – health insurance corporations, military-industrial complex, etc. – there will probably be no moral proscription against the Obama or Hillary administrations going to bat for the Lansky heirs in their quest. It would be no surprise if we learned that John Brennan has already assigned some of his aides at the CIA to see what they could do to help the Lansky family in their claim. Anybody check to see if the family donated to Hillary’s campaign?

  11. J'hon Doe II
    June 26, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    A Theory… ?
    ::
    (excerpt)

    Friday, March 13, 2015
    PART 6: FINAL JUDGMENT:ISRAEL’S GODFATHER MEYER LANSKY

    By Michael Collins Piper

    Israel’s Godfather:The Man in the Middle
    Meyer Lansky, the CIA, the FBI & the Israeli Mossad

    If it had not been for international crime boss Meyer Lansky there might not be a state of Israel today. This is something that Israel would rather be forgotten.

    Israel was established as a state, in major part, through the political, financial and moral support of Meyer Lansky and his associates and henchmen in Organized Crime. Lansky’s interests and Israel’s interests were almost incestuous in fact Lansky’s chief European money laundering bank was an operation run under the auspices of a high-ranking, longtime officer of Israel’s Mossad.

    Lansky’s intimate ties with not only American intelligence (including both the CIA and the FBI) made the Jewish mobster the “untouchable” leader of the global organized crime syndicate.

    During John F. Kennedy’s short-lived presidency, he was not only at odds with Israel and its powerful lobby in America. Kennedy, as we saw in Chapter 4, had also double-crossed his secret allies in the criminal underworld who had helped him achieve the presidency. The president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was waging a relentless war against organized crime.

    In the years prior to Kennedy’s ascendency to the presidency, a little known, but immensely powerful underworld figure by the name of Meyer Lansky had schemed and shot his way to the top of the crime syndicate.

    That syndicate was not just national—it was international—and the uncrowned king of crime was Meyer Lansky—the so-called “chairman of the board” of that incredible criminal empire which spanned the globe.

    It was Meyer Lansky, early in his criminal career, who had emerged as one of the leading sponsors of the state of Israel and whose most intimate associates were among the chief financial patrons of the influential Israeli lobby in America.

    What’s more, as we shall see, Lansky had also forged close ties with Israel’s allies in the American CIA—an agency that, in itself, had entered into a bitter war with John F. Kennedy.

    Thus, when JFK came to blows with not only Israel and its allies in the Lansky Organized Crime empire, but also with the CIA, the American president had unwittingly forged a deadly alliance among his fiercest foes.

    It is the Meyer Lansky connection which explains how Israel’s Mossad was able to utilize and manipulate, among other elements, the anti-Castro Cuban community—itself working with not only the CIA but also the Lansky Organized Crime Syndicate—in the conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy.

    To begin our investigation of the shadowy crevices of the underworld where Israel’s Mossad, Organized Crime and the CIA came together in the Kennedy murder, it is most appropriate to begin with Lansky. It is Lansky (individually) and his crime syndicate which tie all of these diverse strands together, pointing the finger toward the until-now undisclosed role of Israel in the JFK assassination.

    http://netteandme.blogspot.com/2015/03/part-6-final-judgmentisraels-godfather.html

  12. deang
    June 27, 2016 at 1:20 am

    I just hope it doesn’t happen. With the US always trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution, I fear that all will eventually be lost and criminal capitalists like Lansky will grasp back all they had before justice prevailed, kind of like when expatriate Russian oligarchs grabbed up land their families had lost to the Russian Revolution after the USSR fell while millions of Russians were starving to death because of US-inspired capitalist “reforms.”

  13. tony
    June 27, 2016 at 7:47 am

    But remember, all of the powerful US mobsters are supposed to be Italian……

    • Jacob
      June 28, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      There is a Jewish mafia, or Jewish mob. It wouldn’t be a surprise if one or more of the Jewish banksters who created the conditions for the housing crash may be associated in some way with today’s Jewish mafia.

  14. Mari Brandon
    June 28, 2016 at 2:01 am

    Tony–Sicilian, not Italian.

  15. Jacob
    June 28, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Doesn’t it make you feel secure to know that our CIA is interconnected with organized crime? And, thanks to this article, those of us who have always approved of Castro and the people’s revolution in Cuba are now vindicated. Kicking America and its hoodlums out of Cuba was the right thing to do.

  16. Norma J. Price
    June 28, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Living in Las Vegas, it is really symbolic to see our Riviera Hotel implode this week. The mob has gone legitimate.

  17. WackedOutVet
    July 1, 2016 at 2:59 am

    Of course they will get money! They are Jews, they will whine and cry about the holocaust and the anti-semitism of the Cuban people, tell a few big lies and a Jewish judge in NY will award them a couple of billion. Many Jews make a very lucrative profit out of being perennial victims… all the while engaging criminal and treasonous behavior.
    Same scam, different day.

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