Cuba Politics

Former Meyer Lansky bodyguard tells of Cuba’s fabled past as playground

Posted February 08, 2005 by Dana Garrett in Cuba Politics.

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.”

Member Comments

On February 09, 2005, Dana Garrett wrote:

I recently read this book and simply could not put it down:

It’ entitled the Mafia in Havana.  Enrique Cirules wrote this book as well.

It’ chilling to think of the forces the people of Cuba faced in the 40s & 50s.  A powerful imperial invader in the USA, the USA’ criminal underworld and Batitista’ corrupt Dictatorship.  No wonder Cuba broke out into a revolution.

On July 19, 2006, meyer lansky11 grandson wrote:

tell me more about this book always seeking new info on my grandfather. I would like to see a meyer lanskys bar in my home city of seattle. it is american history . know we have a cuban bar called havanas offerd my memoribilia. love to here from author please write .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

On August 27, 2008, Kathleen Hagearty wrote:

I would like to purchase this booko in Spanish but cannot seem to find a seller (not even Amazon)

Could you assist me?  I have heard great things about it.

On October 14, 2009, denise wrote:

I would like to purchase the book secret life of meyer lansky, but cannot find it anywhere, help.