Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1958 Cuban gángster
Subjectgángster gangster / mobster
Culture: Cuban
Setting: organized crime, Cuba / Florida 1940s-1970s

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Chepesiuk 2010 p78
​"The Cuban La Cosa Nostra connection began in the 1920s during Prohibition, when Mob-controlled syndicates exported rum and sugar to the United States from Cuba, and the country became an international meeting place for the Mob.  Lansky, the Mafia's brain and financial wizard, was largely responsible for establishing the Mob's beachhead in Cuba.  The Little Man became pals with corrupt Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista shortly after the ex-army sergeant seized power in Cuba in a September 1935 coup.  But Cuba's gambling industry floundered under the weight of the cheating and corruption, so Batista invited his friend Lansky to oversee a 'cleanup.'  Within months the Cuban gambling industry experienced a resurgence, and wealthy tourists began returning to Cuba.  Batista rewarded Lansky for his support with the opportunity to open and operate hotel casinos in Havana.  Not long after he had established a base in Miami in the mid-1930s, Lansky took over the profitable gambling tables of the Montmartre Club in Havana.
    "Batista won the Cuban presidential election in 1940, but four years later the opposition, led by Dr. Ramón Grau San Martin, defeated his hand-picked successor.  The corruption continued during President San Martin's administration, but the government frowned on gambling, and Lansky thought it best to return to Miami.  The Cuban gaming scene did not revive against until 1952 when Batista and a small band of rebels seized control of the Cuban government."

* English 2007 pxi-xii
"It is as historical fact -- and also a subject of considerable folklore in Cuba and the United States -- that the Havana Mob comprised some of the most notorious underworld figures of their day.  Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, Meyer Lansky, SantoTrafficante, Albert Anastasia, and other gangsters who came to Havana in the late 1940s and 1950s were men who had honed their craft and amassed or inherited their wealth during the 'glory days' of Prohibition in the United States.  These mobsters had always dreamed of one day controlling their own country, a place where they could provide gambling, narcotics, booze, prostitution, and other forms of vice free from government or law enforcement intrusion.
    "Gaming and leisure were only part of the equation.  The idea formulated by Luciano, Lansky, and others was for Havana to serve as the front for a far more ambitious agenda: the creation of a criminal state whose gross national product, union pension funds, public utilities, banks, and other financial institutions would become the means to launch further criminal enterprises around the globe.  The Havana Mob could then bury the profits from these criminal operations underneath the patina of a 'legitimate' government in Cuba and no one would be able to touch them.
    "Political developments on the island would play a large role in determining the Mob's fortunes in Cuba, but its efforts were also shaped by events back home.  Luciano and Lansky may have wanted to establish Cuba as a base of operation as far back as the 1920s, but history sometimes got in the way.  Economic downturns, wars, and the efforts of U.S. law enforcement caused retrenchments and changes in strategy.  The plan was not formulted in its final form until the postwar years of the late 1940s, and even then there were interruptions.  Much of the onus would fall on Lansky, who would devote a good portion of his adult life to formulating the necessary relationships and providing the impetus.
    "By the 1950s, the plan appeared to be coming to fruition.  Through force of will, shrewd organization, and the judicious use of political repression, violence, and murder, the mobsters seemingly achieved their dream.  Havana seethed and sizzled.  The money that flowed from huge hotel-casinos was used to construct nightclubs that attracted major performers, Cuban, American, and European.  A fabulous epoch was created -- perhaps the most organic and exotic entertainment era in the history of organized crime.  Elaborate floor shows at places like the world-famous Tropicana nightclub set the standard for generations to come.  Smaller cabarets allowed patrons to get closer to the dancers, who were scantily clad, voluptuous, and sometimes obtainable.  Varying levels of burlesque clubs and bordellos were sprinkled throughout the city."

​* Chepesiuk 2010 p88
"In the decade following the Cuban Revolution, some of the Cuban American communities in Miami and South Florida became bases for organized crime networks that U.S. law enforcement dubbed the 'Cuban Mafia.'  At first the Florida-based Cuban gangsters imported only enough cocaine to satisfy the narcotics needs of members from their own community.  By the mid-1960s, however, they were reaching out to La Cosa Nostra, some of whose members had been their bosses in Cuba, to help them import greater quantities of drugs.
    "By 1969 the Miami authorities were openly worrying about the growing strength of the Cuban Mafia.  They revealed how Cuban smugglers were paying young American girls $3,000 a trip to bring in the contraband.  The girls wore tent dresses and smuggled the cocaine in pouches located under their breasts.  'The Cuban element is involved to a much greater degree than in the past,' revealed William H. Logan, regional director of the Federal Narcotics Board.  The Board appealed to the law-abiding majority of Cuban exiles to help law enforcement stop drug trafficking and other crimes, but Logan acknowledged that the Cuban American community was reluctant to inform on each other to outsiders."

​* Sifakis 1999 p104-105
​"In the 1960s, especially after the Valachi and similar disclosures, the Mafia role in drug rackets diminished and so opened the arena to a group called generically the Cuban Mafia.  In actuality, the Cuban Mafia, although it has a vast supply of available manpower among ghettoized Cubans, especially in Florida, also includes Colombians, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans.
    "Organized crime appeared to be learning its lesson following the arrests of such high-ranking mafiosi drug runners as Vito Genovese, Carmine, Galante, Big John Ormento and Natale Evola, to name a few.  Despite some newspaper speculation that the mob was forced out violently by newcomer Latinos, this was not the case at all.
    "The transition of the narcotics trade from operators of Italian-Sicilian background to those of Latino origin was accomplished so peacefully that more knowledgeable observers felt the fine hand of Meyer Lansky had to be involved.  In his operations in the Caribbean, he had worked well for years with Latinos and had gained a huge measure of respect and credibility.
    "The Latinos began setting up their own connections and pipelines from South America and, to some extent, from Europe as well.  The Mafia did not give up completely on heroin but abandoned marijuana and cocaine trafficking since they were best produced in Latino territory anyway."

* Chepesiuk 2010 p132
"Before Fidel Castro's communist revolution, cocaine had been the drug of choice for Cuba's elites, and the country's gangsters had a history of active involvement in the Late American cocaine trade. In fleeing Cuba and becoming a part of the Cuban emigré community in the United States, the Cuban gangsters reestablished their connections in the cocaine trade."


* O'Hara 1986 p184
​"panama hat  Light-colored hat of various shapes, made from tightly woven straw of the plant Carloduvica palmata, found in Ecuador and neighboring countries.  It is called a panama because US President Theodore Roosevelt wore one during a tour of the Panama Canal in 1906.  Panama hats remained popular summer wear, mainly for men, until World War II."


* Calasibetta/Tortora 2003 p406
"guayabera shirt (gwah-ya-bare'-a) 1. Light-weight overshirt made with convertible collar, short sleeves and four large patch pockets. Has two sets of pin tucks in front running from small shoulder yokes to hem, and three sets of pin tucks in the back from yoke to hem. Small white pearl buttons are used for the front closing, pocket flaps, and at the top and bottom of the sets of tucks. Copied from shirts worn by the well-dressed in pre-Castro Havana. 2. Another style is similar with embroidered stripes down front instead of tucks styled for men and women. Der. Shirt worn in Cuba by guava-tree growers."

​​​* Fogg ed. 2013 p140
"In Cuba soldiers fighting for independence wore a guayabera -- a man's pleated cotton shirt with large pockets. This garment remains a symbol of Cuban national identity and is still worn throughout the Caribbean."