The grandson of legendary mobster Meyer Lansky wants Cuba to pay compensation for seizing his grandfather’s casino nearly six decades ago.
Lansky helped establish Cuba as a regional gambling haven before the Fidel Castro-led revolutionaries overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista on New Year’s Day, 1959.
Lansky was the driving force behind the Habana Riviera hotel-casino, which cost $8m to build back in the day and was considered the finest in the Caribbean when it opened in December 1957. It was the last major Havana gambling resort to open before the Communists seized power, after which they outlawed gambling and nationalized the property.
The US government broke off all ties with Cuba following the Communist takeover, a stance the US resolutely maintained until last year, when President Barack Obama announced that the two countries would begin normalizing relations.
On Tuesday, the two nations commenced negotiations on $1.9b (in 1959 dollars) worth of compensation claims by US businesses and individuals that have lain dormant since the takeover. In turn, Cuba is seeking hundreds of billions in reparations for damages caused by the embargo the US imposed on the island.
Lansky died in 1983, but his 60-year-old grandson Gary Rapoport told the Tampa Bay Tribune that he, his mother (Lansky’s only daughter) and his uncle are the beneficiaries of Lansky’s trust. Rapoport said his family has yet to file an official claim but believe they’re due some compensation for Lansky’s loss.
Cuba’s government may not see it that way. Cuba’s constitution allowed for compensation for nationalized property, but not for “associates” of the Batista regime. Lansky was long rumored to have bankrolled the 1952 military coup in which Batista seized power, a favor Batista repaid by allowing Lansky and his associates to set up their gambling businesses on the island.
Rapoport admits that his family could have a tough time pressing Cuba for compensation but he notes that “at some point the Castro brothers will be off that island and things may change.” In the meantime, “I don’t want that property going to anyone else.”
Lansky was the inspiration for the Hyman Roth character in The Godfather Part II movie, which depicted the Communist forces overrunning Havana on New Year’s Eve 1958 in a bid to stop Al Pacino from kissing Jon Cazale on the lips again.