John Ennis arrives in Havana as the world, driven by a frenzy of market forces and the explosion of Internet technologies, is submerged in a flood of wealth and virtual money. At the same time inconceivably large sums of dark money, derived from crime and drugs are laundered by criminal organisations via the world’s banking and financial institutions...and their multiple tax havens.
In Cuba he discovers another world where he meets bankers and crooks...and discovers Fidel Castro's plans to build a tourist paradise.
Depending on how one looked at it, it may or may not have been a good augur. For John Ennis it was nothing more than an amusing anecdote that the baggage porter told to each new arrival. Their rooms were located on the sixth floor, the whole of which they were told had been rented year round by Al Capone at the height of his infamous career. Capone had been just one of the many figures of organised crime of his time who had been drawn to Cuba by the lawlessness that then reigned.
That period was known as Cuba’s age of decadence. It was presided by Fulgencia Batista. Until his election in 1940, as President of Cuba, he had been an important figure in Cuban politics behind a series of puppet presidents. He stepped down four years later, then after a period in Florida he returned to Cuba, where he was again elected as president in 1952 and 54, presiding over a brutally oppressive regime. After provoking the Castro revolt, Batista fled the island to the Dominican Republic December 31, 1958. The following day Castro took over Cuba.
Mobsters such as ‘Lucky’ Luciano and his partner the Jewish godfather, Meyer Lansky were also amongst the Mafiosi who had controlled hotels and casinos in Havana, and what was to become, half a century, later the modern tourist resort of Varedero.
Batista and Lansky were said to have been so close that they were almost like brothers. In 1953, Batista appointed Lansky as his personal advisor on gambling reform. The American gangster then proceeded to transform Havana into a tropical Las Vegas.
The reign of corruption, gambling and prostitution ended with the flight of Batista and the arrival of the young revolutionary Fidel Castro. Castro installed forty years of fruitless revolution that bled dry a country that was already in a calamitous situation.
With the new millennium, impoverished and in a state of advanced decay, Cuba was ready for the next infernal swing of fortune’s pendulum. From the nearby mainland and islands, patiently watching and salivating, a new deadlier version of organised crime prepared itself for the feast, aided and abetted by the international banking system equipped with the most modern technology and condoned by serious government.
The Hotel Sevilla was a splendid edifice built in 1908, near the historical centre of Old Havana, just off the Prado. John Ennis browsed through the hotel brochure as he sat on the toilet; it described the recently renovated hotel in grand style. He had to agree, both from the external appearance and that of the spacious lobby with its elegant Spanish colonial style furnishings, where fine classic blue and yellow ceramic floor tiles brilliantly reflected the light cast by the crystal chandeliers. It was certainly grand, although his initial encounter with the plumbing seemed to indicate that it was not only the architecture that was turn of the century Moorish style.
Their Air France flight from Paris had been uneventful. On arrival they had been met by a smiling Havanatour representative, who had them transferred efficiently to their hotel in a modern air-conditioned taxi.
He together with Paul Carvin formed a team of no-longer very young freelance journalists, who, with nothing better on hand, had accepted a reportage for the Banque de Credit National, a leading Parisian bank, to garner the pages of its quarterly magazine. John Ennis handled the journalistic content and Paul Carvin the photography. They had worked as a team for more years than they cared to remember, scrambling from one story to another with a light to cynical vein to their reports, which had won them a modest reputation.
They were delighted, two weeks all paid in advance in the Caribbean sun, after a bitterly cold Parisian winter and a miserably damp start to the spring, it could not have been more welcome. Business had not been exactly booming since the end of the last Middle East war and the Indonesian elections. They had no desire to get involved in another war zone - much too dangerous. They preferred good hotels and bars, and specialised in crisis development or redevelopment after the crisis. The shooting part was for heroes and they had no desire to be the subject of a first page tribute to a bloody and quickly forgotten end.