ANDREA RODRIGUEZ | Associated Press
The former Cuban bodyguard of American mobster Meyer Lansky appeared Monday for the presentation of a new Spanish-language book about the island’s legendary past as a haven for U.S. gangsters and their casinos before the Cuban revolution.
“All is told in the book,” former bodyguard Armando Jaime Casielles, now 73, said at the International Book Fair of Havana, which runs through Sunday.
In the “La vida secreta de Meyer Lansky en La Habana,” or “The Secret Life of Meyer Lansky in Havana,” Casielles narrates to Cuban writer Enrique Cirules his experiences as the mobster’s sidekick from 1957 to early 1959, shortly after the triumph of the Cuban revolution.
“This book recalls a piece of our country’s history,” said Cirules. “They wanted to convert Havana into a world paradise of gambling, drugs and sex.”
According to the book, Lansky was short, unattractive and favored the color gray. But he could also be elegant, and above all was an expert gambler.
As Lansky’s bodyguard, Casielles traveled throughout the Caribbean as his boss visited other gambling operations in Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, Aruba. Casielles also accompanied Lansky to meetings with other mob leaders, and met other underworld figures including Santo Trafficante.
The book also tells of Lansky meeting secretly with Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and discussing a plan to build 50 hotels - most of them with casinos - along Havana’s coastal Malecon highway.
And it recounts Lansky’s romance with a beautiful young Cuban brunette named Carmen.
The last time Casielles saw Lansky was in April 1959, just four months after a young bearded revolutionary named Fidel Castro and his guerrilla band marched triumphantly into Havana. Lansky died in the 1980s after moving to Miami Beach, Fla.
The young rebels moved quickly to shut down the island’s widespread gambling and other organized crime operations, and Lansky and the other mobsters soon left the island.
Casielles, however, decided to stay in Cuba and remains here today.
The former bodyguard said he made his decision when the young Castro desribed the revolution “as a train with many stops where some will get on, and others will get off. I got on board.”