August 1960, Miami: a telltale bargain was struck between exiled Cuban politician Manuel Antonio Varona and organized crime leader Meyer Lansky. Lansky, the impresario of the Mafia gambling colony in Cuba since the 1930s, had owned Havana’s Hotel Riviera and the Montmartre nightclub and their fabulous casinos.

In Cuba, Lansky was known as the “Little Man” for his five-foot-four- inch stature, but his cold, hard eyes and intense demeanor were physical expressions of a man used to wielding power and getting his way. His dream of turning Havana into a tropical paradise for North American tourists had come true. Havana had a reputation for the best gambling and wildest nightlife in the Western Hemisphere in the 1950s. And since Lansky shared the Mafia’s profits with General Fulgencio Batista and senior Cuban army and police officers, that gambling paradise became the cornerstone of a full-fledged Cuban gangster state.

Read the full excerpt at Jacobin magazine.