Under the Radar

How the War on Castro Fueled Cuban Organized Crime in the USA

T.J. English's new book "The Corporation: An Epic Story of the Cuban American Underworld" details how a Cuban leader of the Bay of Pigs invasion became the kingpin of Cuban American organized crime. José Miguel Battle, a former Havana policeman, served in the Army to earn his U.S. citizenship and later took over the Cuban numbers racket, earning a fortune from illegal gambling.

It's an organized crime story. You know this won't end well.

Battle was obsessed with "The Godfather," repeatedly watching the film on video and imitating Marlon Brando's speech patterns as he aged. Battle eventually forgot Vito's rules against the drug trade and expanded into cocaine. Eventually, it was a delusional attempt to "go legitimate" with a government-sanctioned casino in Peru that brought him down.

English previously wrote the best-seller "Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution" and that book inspired producers of a proposed movie about Battle to approach English with the idea for this book. Their plan worked. The book is great and Paramount Pictures has optioned it for a movie. Leonardo DiCaprio will produce and Benicio Del Toro is attached to play José Miguel Battle.

"The Corporation" is a great crime story but it's also the tale of how the American fight against Communism in the Americas had all kinds of unintended consequences. The anti-Castro movement was at least partially funded by Cuban-American organized crime and that movement turns up repeatedly in the late 20th century: both Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandal feature anti-Castro players in key roles.

There are all the elements for a great organized crime movie here and probably an even better 10-part cable series. In the meantime, "The Corporation" is worth the read.

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