Edna Buchanan was born in 1939 in New Jersey and she started her journalism career in Miami, so it's safe to say she learned early in life about the Mafia in particular and crime in general. She became arguably the greatest crime journalist in American history and also one of America's most successful crime novelists. Her initial fame came in daily articles in crime-infested Miami as a reporter for the Miami Beach Daily Sun. Soon her bravery and insightfulness were regularly featured in major articles for the Miami Herald and the Associated Press. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for her coverage of Miami crime. When she turned her unique expertise into writing crime books, she quickly won the Edgar Award in 1995 for "Miami, It's Murder." In 2006 Billy Corben directed and Alfred Spellman produced a superb two-hour documentary entitled Cocaine Cowboys, which expertly chronicled the incredible dominance the drug cartels had over Miami in the 1970s and 1980s. It explained that the banks, including the Federal Reserve in Miami, were literally overflowing with drug money, and even the so-called "legitimate" businesses were drug controlled or merely fronts for the drug trade. Appropriately, Cocaine Cowboys featured the expert knowledge of Edna Buchanan. The documentary's coda depicted Ms. Buchanan on a balcony with the truly beautiful Miami skyline in the background. She gestured back over her left shoulder, pointing out how gorgeous it was, before sadly lamenting that it was financed with bushels of drug money and rivers of bright, red blood.
The above photo shows a typical front-page article by Edna Buchanan in the Miami Herald as she led the chronicling of America's Batistiano Banana Republic, one whose speciality was car, boat, and airplane bombs. This article is dated May 1, 1976. It began: "A bomb planted under the hood of his station wagon shattered the legs of the news director of radio station WQBA in Little Havana Friday night. Emilio Milian, 45, who had editorialized against terrorism and violence in Miami, stepped out of the station after a show, got into his WQBA car, turned on the ignition and the device detonated at 7:17 p.m. Late Friday doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital amputated both of Milian's legs."
The car-bombing of Emilio Milian in 1976 is just one of many terrorist acts that has defined the reconstitution on U. S. soil of the overthrown Batista dictatorship in Cuba. At the time Emilio was the most popular newscaster in South Florida. Despite threats, including unmistakable ones sent by earlier bomb victims, he railed against fellow Cuban exiles murdering innocent Cubans and then bragging about it in the Miami media. His views were supported by the majority of Cuban exiles, but not by the far richer and more powerful fanatical fringe that controlled the dictatorship. Suffice to say, the bombing that maimed Emilio sent the desired message. Born in the little Cuban village of Sagua la Grande, Emilio quit medical school at the University of Havana to pursue his first love, radio broadcasting. He left Cuba with his wife and three children in 1965 to seek radio work in Miami. Like many truly decent and great journalists before him, such as Lisa Howard, and many after him, such as Gary Webb, Emilio's reporting on America's first and only dictatorship resulted in tragedy. His pleas, to stop the terrorism against innocent civilians and to stop bragging about it, was his undoing. As befits a Banana Republic, no one was ever charged with his bombing although Cuban exiles Gaspar Jimenez and Gustavo Castillo were openly hailed as the bombers. The legless Emilio lived on until his death on March 15, 2001, at age 69. The headline in the Miami Herald on March 16-2001 was: "EMILIO MILIAN, BROADCASTER WHO DENOUNCED TERRORISM, DIES." The article, written by Liz Balmaseda, included these exact words: "At the height of his popularity, Milian frequently denounced terrorist bombings, saying the bombers were...criminals. But he also was the subject of constant death threats. A virtual state of siege existed at the Milian home, where his children had been warned about opening mail packages and talking to anonymous callers. The bomb that ripped off his legs proved powerful beyond the physical damage to Milian. Even now...no one has been prosecuted, even though the investigations of several agencies and witness testimony pointed to three suspects. Former U. S. Attorney Atlee Wampler obtained a four-count jury indictment on April 30, 1981, just hours before a five-year statute of limitations would lapse. But the suspects -- exiles Caspar Jimenez, Gustavo Castillo and an unnamed third person -- were never arrested. For reasons that remain unclear, Wampler's successor, Stanley Marcus, dismissed the indictments." Before and after the Milian bombing, FOR REASONS THAT REMAIN UNCLEAR has been the phrase that journalists and historians have used over and over again to describe Cuban exile terrorism related to Miami, words analogous to any two-bit Banana Republic dictatorship. And the Milian bombing, once and for all, chilled freedom of expression in Miami and, in the eyes of many, cemented the transfer of the Batista dictatorship from Cuba to the United States. FOR REASONS THAT REMAIN UNCLEAR. In fact, those reasons are quite clear and the U. S. democracy should be strong enough to confront that reality, but apparently it is not.
Yes, America...since January of 1959 a perfidious Banana Republic dictatorship, much richer and more powerful than Fulgencio Batista and Meyer Lansky ever dreamed of in Cuba, has existed on U. S. soil.
Fulgencio Batista, 1936
Fulgencio Batista, an undistinguished army sergeant (notable only for his already-cultivated ties with the Mafia in South Florida) became Cuba's dictator in a 1934 coup known as The Revolt of the Sergeants. Antonio Guiteras, a decent and very popular rival, was brutally murdered in Matanzas in 1935. All other rivals, real or perceived, met the same fate as Guiteras. Batista, strongly supported by the Communist Party of Cuba, actually won a rigged election that made him President of Cuba in 1940. The United States, the overall dominant force on the island since the 1898 Spanish-American War, strongly supported the murderous Batista because, with hefty kick-backs, he sold out as readily to U. S. capitalists as he did to his Mafia friends from South Florida.
Therefore, as pictured above, Batista was a superstar at events such as Armistice parades in Washington, D. C., as the U. S. government tried to convince the American taxpayers that their friend in Cuba was a decent leader. From 1934 till 1944 Batista fleeced so much money from the island via those Mafia and U. S. kickbacks that he actually had trouble banking it in Swiss numbered accounts and in the Mafia strongholds of Miami and Union City (NJ). In 1944 Batista allowed Grau San Martin to ascend to the Presidency while the little sergeant mostly counted his money and kept tabs on the businesses and mansions he kept buying in South Florida. Soon, he moved into his favorite mansion in Daytona Beach while still trying to manage his money spigot in Cuba. In the early 1950s Batista didn't even mind that an old rival, Carlos Prio Socorras, had become Cuba's President in an almost fair election.
Batista's all-time best friend was Meyer Lansky, the Mafia's Jewish mastermind and financial genius. Even with Batista's sojourn to South Florida beginning in 1944, both men were still raking in Cuban cash and living high on the hog in South Florida.
Photo courtesy: Brule Laker
The above photo shows Meyer Lansky's home in Hallendale Beach, one of his favorite retirement mansions in South Florida. By this time the Mafia kingpin was reportedly worth $300 million but he had not been satisfied when his dear friend Batista moved back to South Florida and slowed the money spigot in Cuba. At the start of 1952 Lansky told Batista, "Both you and I have enough money that anyone with our bloodlines will all be rich for the next thousand years. But I've always wanted to own my own country. That's why I want you back in Cuba."
The above photo, taken from the epic Godfather movie, shows the Meyer Lansky-inspired character Hyman Roth telling the Michael Corleone character about how he always wanted to own his own country, namely Cuba. The real Meyer Lansky actually made that statement to his best friend Fulgencio Batista. That wish by the Mafia kingpin significantly advanced the future reality of a dictatorship on U. S. soil.
Meyer Lansky on U. S. soil never had any worries about going to prison even though it was well known he was the prime Mafia instigator of drug smuggling, pornography, prostitution, gambling, and extortion rackets. In 1970 the U. S. government estimated Lansky was worth $300 million and there were suggestions in Congress that he at least should pay income taxes. After reading that pertinent suggestion in his newspaper, Lansky fled briefly to Israel, till his associates paid off the proper people and all charges against him were dropped in 1973. He died of natural causes (lung cancer) on May 15, 1983, as one of the leading citizens in Miami Beach, Florida. At his death, Meyer Lansky was worth approximately $450 million, much of it thanks to his associations with Fulgencio Batista in both South Florida and Cuba. From 1959 to 1983, much of the Lansky fortune was spent trying to kill Fidel Castro or in repeated Mafia/Cuban exile/U. S. government bids to recapture Cuba.
Strongly prodded by Meyer Lansky, Fulgencio Batista returned to Cuba and on March 10, 1952 -- almost twenty years after the Revolt of the Sergeants -- his coup overthrew the government of Carlos Prio Socorras and created the second Batista-Mafia (and U. S. - backed) dictatorship in Cuba. Very quickly, the U. S. (on March 27, 1952) officially recognized the Batista/Mafia dictatorship and lavishly heralded its official return. The timing was inauspicious for Cuba and for a popular and very energetic young anti-Batista lawyer who had envisioned a democratic Cuba that would include him.
Fidel Castro; April, 1952: Candidate for a democratic election in Cuba
The second Batista coup took place three months before what Cubans were told would be an honest election on the island, an election in which a popular young lawyer, Fidel Castro, had already filed the appropriate papers to be a candidate for a judicial position. Batista -- backed by the Mafia, the Communist Party of Cuba, and the United States -- canceled the election, of course, because he well knew he could never win anything that even resembled an honest election. In 1959 Fidel reminisced back to March of 1952 as he told the famed journalist Carlos Franqui, "I guess Batista and the United States educated me that month about guns, money, and democracy." Franqui said, "How so?" Fidel replied, "Guns and money trump democracy, so why waste your time pretending that is not so?"
Shortly after Batista's pernicious March-1952 coup canceled the promised democratic election in Cuba, the young lawyer and political hopeful Fidel Castro took off his suit and tie, stopped parting his hair on the left side, grew a beard, and began showing how much he had learned about guns trumping democracy. That education and that resolve would, seven years later, spawn a new and different dictatorship in Cuba and, even more significantly, the first ever dictatorship on U. S. soil.
Santo Trafficante Jr.
Next to Meyer Lansky, Fulgencio Batista's best friend in his South Florida Mafia circles was Santo Trafficante Jr. He was born in Tampa to Sicilian Santo Trafficante Sr., who died of natural causes in 1954 when he was the undisputed Mafia kingpin in Tampa. Jr., even more bloodthirsty than his father, took over that role and became the #3 man in the Batista-Lansky dictatorship in Cuba. As Lansky concentrated on building Cuba's burgeoning drug operations, Trafficante Jr. took over the syndicate-owned gambling casinos in Cuba -- including the Hotel Habana Riviera, the Tropicana Club, the Capri Hotel Casion, the Sans Souci, the Sevilla-Biltmore, the Commodoro, the Deauville, and the Havana Hilton. All the while Trafficante Jr. maintained close Mob ties to the Bonanno family in New York City and to Mafia kingpins Sam Giancana in Chicago and Carlos Marcello in New Orleans. In addition to kickbacks to Batista, Trafficante Jr. was responsible for paying off the Bonanno, Giancana, and Marcello operations. He also made Havana the prostitution center of the Caribbean as well as the dominant drug and gambling hub in the Americas.
Like his father and most Mafia bosses, Santo Trafficante Jr. lived out his long life without ever having spent a day in a U. S. prison.
One thing Al Capone, Trafficante Sr., Trafficante Jr., and all the Mafia bosses had in common was to incessantly complain about how much money they had to pay lawyers as well as Police Chiefs, Governors, Congressmen, etc., to stay out of U. S. prisons. Thus, some mob lawyers became almost as famous as their main clients. The photo above shows Tampa Bay/Havana Mafia boss Trafficante Jr. (center) toasting New Orleans/Dallas Mafia boss Carlos Marcello (to his right) and their famed lawyer Frank Ragano (to his left). Ragano would later reveal that Trafficante and Marcello not only financed terrorist and assassination attacks on Castro's Cuba but both of his prime Mobster clients powerfully targeted both John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy for assassinations in the 1960s.
If Trafficante Jr. and Marcello -- along with Giancana and Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa -- were not directly involved in the heart-wrenching assassinations of the Kennedy brothers in the 1960s, it is only because someone else beat them to it. That is not a conspiracy theory because Ragano's claim is backed up by key members of the Bonanno family in New York, by famed undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone (alias "Donnie Brasco"), and even by the declassified CIA "Family Jewels" documents finally released in 2007. Also, Mob Lawyer: Frank Ragano published by Random House in 1996 is an interesting read.
While it is true that Mafia thug Santo Trafficante Jr. typically never served a day in prison in the U. S., he did spend two weeks in a Cuban prison in January of 1959. That's because, totally sure he could buy Cuba's new leader Fidel Castro for the Mafia just as the ousted Batista had been bought, Trafficante Jr. didn't flee the island with the other Batistiano leaders on January 1, 1959. He stayed behind and made an offer, 40% Mafia kickbacks, that he thought Fidel couldn't turn down. Fidel not only summarily turned down the offer, he tossed Trafficante Jr. in prison. Che Guevara, in charge of the La Habana Fortress trials of the captured Batista leaders, sentenced Trafficante Jr. to death by firing squad.
Celia Sanchez & Che Guevara
Celia Sanchez, the prime decision-maker in Revolutionary Cuba (always fully supported by Fidel Castro) over-ruled the Che-orchestrated death sentence for Trafficante Jr. The pragmatic Celia did that as a favor, not to the Mafia, but to the U. S. government, which she hoped would come to accept both Cuba's sovereignty and its new leadership. Releasing Trafficante Jr. back to his Mafia roots in South Florida was one of the few major decisions Celia regretted making, as she confessed years later to friends Marta Rojas and Nora Peters. Oddly enough, just prior to over-ruling Che regarding Trafficante Jr., Celia had actually fired the lawyer Fidel as the Chief Prosecutor of the Batistianos because she felt he was "far too soft in his treatment of the child killers." That's when the doctor Che in Havana and Fidel's brother Raul in Santiago de Cuba became the two key prosecutors of the Batistianos. Che and Raul, not Fidel and Celia, have taken most of the historic heat for the up-to-700 executions of Batista associates in the days following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
Marta Rojas; legendary journalist, author, and revolutionary
Marta Rojas -- the greatest living expert on Celia, Fidel and Cuba (she is a healthy 82) -- once remarked: "Celia, the child-loving doctor's daughter, was angelic, except when it came to those she called Batistianos."
Roberto Salas; renowned Cuban photographer and author
Roberto Salas -- the second greatest living expert on Celia, Fidel and Cuba -- stated in his book The Pictorial History of the Cuban Revolution: "Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones."
The inimitable Marta Rojas also told me in a 2005 email: "Since Celia died of cancer in 1980, Fidel has ruled Cuba only as he precisely believes Celia would want him to rule it."
If you study and comprehend the aforementioned three quotations, I believe you will better understand why Celia Sanchez later concluded that her decision to release Trafficante Jr. from his Cuban prison and Che's firing squad was among the biggest regrets of her life. They also help to demystify the transfer of the Batista dictatorship to U. S. soil, especially when aligned with a sentence Celia Sanchez wrote in a 1973 letter to her American friend Nora Peters: "If nothing else, we chased the Batista and Mafia criminals to Miami and, I believe, it's the first indigenous dictatorship on American soil, or am I wrong, Nora?"
Above is the only mug shot ever taken of Santo Trafficante Jr. -- this one by the Tampa sheriff's department on May 19, 1954. However, his lawyer Frank Ragano got him released the same day and their friends at the Florida Supreme Court quickly dismissed all charges before his scheduled trial. After Celia Sanchez, of all people, released Trafficante Jr. from his Cuban prison in January of 1959, he was instrumental in relocating the Batistiano capital from Havana to Miami, thereby creating the first-ever dictatorship on U. S. soil, one that continues to this very day.
Reminiscent of other Banana Republics, America's tells Americans what to believe and not believe. Thus, Americans are often told that Batista's Cuba in the 1950s was one of Latin America's wealthiest countries. That's like saying that, between them, Bill Gates and the man living under the bridge are worth $50 billion, implying that each man, including the penny-less man under the bridge, is worth about $25 billion. But photos are often worth a thousand words and capable of superseding a thousand lies. The above photo from 1954 depicts the real story of Batista's Cuba. Notice the Mafia casino going up in the background overlooking a helplessly poor Cuban family. Or, better yet, check the History Channel documentary entitled Declassified: The Godfathers of Havana. It states that the Cuban majority in the 1950s went to bed hungry at night and repeatedly it showed a malnourished young mother trying unsuccessfully to nurse her infant. And the documentary shows black-and-white film of Cubans being beaten with baseball bats in the streets of Havana...as well as huge ships in the harbor loaded with cocaine bound for Miami. But the dichotomy between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, was not what created the Cuban Revolution that ousted the Batista-Mafia dictatorship on the island of Cuba.
And it wasn't the ubiquitous Batista firing squads, like the one shown above, that spawned the anti-Batista Cuban Revolution.
The death knell for the Batista dictatorship in Cuba, and its reconfiguration in South Florida, was the unconscionable series of murders directed at Cuban children as a warning for the peasants on the island not to resist. The embers of the revolutionary fire were lit by Cuban women, outraged over the murders of their children, who courageously took to the streets with massive anti-Batista marches that soon resonated across the island, across the Caribbean, across Latin America, and even touched some hearts in America. So, the child murders represent the biggest mistake Batista, the Mafia, and the United States ever made on the island of Cuba. One such murder, in particular, reshaped Cuba, South Florida, and America.
Celia Sanchez, a 99-pound doctor's daughter from the little eastern Cuban town of Media Luna, was a minor player in the anti-Batista underground in 1952. And then she and her father Manuel began to hear that little peasant girls were being kidnapped and taken to the plush casino/hotels to be lures for rich pedophiles. At the start of 1953 Celia determined that Maria Ochoa, a ten-year-old peasant girl she loved, had been legally kidnapped and raped to death in a casino/hotel. That seminal event transformed the doctor's daughter from her minor role to becoming the most important player in the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba.
Frank Pais, the young school teacher, was by far the most important male in the anti-Batista underground.
Frank Pais funeral march in Santiago de Cuba
But Frank Pais as well as his baby brother Jesus were captured and gruesomely murdered by Batista's police in Santiago de Cuba.
Pedro Alvarez Tabio
The Murder of Frank Pais later prompted this salient quotation from the great Cuban historian Pedro Alvarez Tabio: "If Batista had managed to kill Celia Sanchez anytime between 1953 and 1957 there would have been no viable Cuban Revolution, and no revolution for Fidel and Che to join." That's because, over and above the macho men of the revolution, no one matched the overall determination, intelligence, courage, organizational ability, and recruiting skills (of rebels and supplies) of the doctor's daughter from Media Luna. American history registers the fact that the murders of four little girls in a Birmingham church did more to defeat the racist cause of their killers than anything else. American history can also register the fact that the murder of peasant children in Batista's Cuba, especially ten-year-old Maria Ochoa, did more to defeat the cause of Batista, the Mafia, and the United States on the island of Cuba than anything else. It also remains the underlying cause for the resulting emergence of the first dictatorship on U. S. soil.
William Soler Pediatric Hospital in Cuba
The three Cuban children in the above photo, standing in front of their doctors, have received life-saving liver transplants at the William Soler Pediatric Hospital in Cuba.
These two female Cuban doctors at the William Soler Pediatric Hospital in Cuba are working hard to save the life of that Cuban baby in the bassinet. One thing that hurts their effort is the U. S. Congress's Helms-Burton Bill, which unbiased Cuban experts such as Ann Louise Bardach will tell you was written not by the two right-wing congressmen for whom it is named but by the Batistiano dictators in Miami, who jetted up to D. C. to wildly celebrate its passing. Via the dictates of the Helms-Burton Bill, which every democracy-loving American should be ashamed of, the U. S. has fined American companies and foreign companies for such things as selling baby aspirin or needed hospital instruments to Cuba; Cuban diplomats in countries like Mexico and Norway have been kicked out of hotels because those hotels were partially owned by U. S. companies that are forced to comply with the Helms-Burton Bill; this summer England's biggest warship sailed into Havana Harbor on a good-will mission that thrilled the Cuban people but, because of the Helms-Burton Bill, that British warship, while in the area, was not permitted to pay a good-will mission to a U. S. port because it had stopped over in Havana; the executives of a Canadian company, as well as their spouses and children, are not allowed in the U. S. because that company does business with Cuba, etc., etc. The Helms-Burton Bill is designed solely to appease the ancient revenge motives of a handful of anti-Castro Cuban exiles while it punishes the rest of the people all around the world, including that Cuban baby in the above photo that those Cuban doctors are trying to save.
And, oh yes...the William Soler Pediatric Hospital in Cuba is named for little Willie Soler, who was murdered, along with his three schoolmates, in Batista's Cuba. As depicted in many books, including Georgie Anne Geyer's seminal Castro biography, the four little bodies were left in an abandoned warehouse as a warning for the adults in that community not to resist the Batista/Mafia dictatorship. Willie's mother and 500 other women famously and bravely conducted anti-Batista marches in both Havana and Santiago de Cuba. They are the ones who ignited and coalesced the Cuban Revolution. Because of his courageous mother, little Willie Soler today has a major hospital in Cuba named after him. And it does outstanding work, despite the quintessence of evil otherwise known as the Helms-Burton Bill.
The nearby cities of Miami and Havana have been the fiercely competitive capitals of the two well-defined Banana Republic dictatorships, South Florida and Cuba, since January of 1959. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines dictatorship as: "A form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator or a small clique." It defines a Banana Republic as: A small dependent country, usually in the tropics; especially one run despotically." Note: I define South Florida as the area from St. Petersburg in the north to Key West in the south, with Miami as its capital; the rest of Florida, with Tallahassee as its capital, remains a part of the democratic United States of America although even that was highly questionable during the eight years Batistiano-aligned Jeb Bush was Florida's governor and George W. Bush was America's president.
Banana Republic dictatorships once dominated the Caribbean and Latin America but by the mid-1980s governments that actually could be defined as democracies came into vogue. Thus, in the fading days of 2011 the two that best conform to the aforementioned definitions of a Banana Republic dictatorship are South Florida and Cuba. Any halfway serious aficionado of U. S. - Cuban relations could easily provide another thousand examples on another hundred pages of why South Florida, with Miami as its capital, is a classic Banana Republic dictatorship. However, if I did that I would have to forgo my other three pastimes -- riding my ATV, reading David McCullough's historical biographies, and devouring anything pertaining to baseball even in wintertime. So, this aficionado will absolutely prove that Miami/South Florida is an epic Banana Republic dictatorship via the use of just three words: "Cubana Flight 455."
Cubana Flight 455 (actual photo)
The fate of Cubana Flight 455, coupled with its historic prelude and ongoing aftermath, is actually (all alone) proof- positive that South Florida, with Miami as its capital, is a Banana Republic dictatorship by anyone's definition -- including mine, yours, and...Merriam-Webster's. Therefore, the next posting will be entitled "Cubana Flight 500". Obfuscations, both the cowardly and self-serving ones -- such as confining Cubana Flight 500 to the dustbins of history -- do not serve the U. S. democracy well. Facts and transparency do.