The truth and the myths about Al Capone’s visit to Cuba in the 1920s

Al Capone at the Gardens of La Tropical brewery in Marianao, Cuba

There are a lot of stories about Al Capone’s business ventures and stay in Cuba during the 1920s, some of them true, some of them tall tales.

Via CubaNet (my translation):

What is and isn’t true about Al Capone’s visit to Cuba?

The famous and feared American gangster Alphonse Gabriel Capone, better known as Al Capone, visited Cuba in 1928 to oversee his alcohol smuggling business.

Between 1920 and 1933, the so-called Dry Law was in effect in the U.S. During those years, the majority of alcoholic beverages that entered the U.S. came from the Antilles, Cuba among them. In this context, it was no surprise the celebrity gangster would get involved and come to the island to ensure the success of his smuggling business.

In regard to his time on the island, there are many tales that have never been confirmed by historians. For example, the lavish house in Varadero that bears his name is claimed to be his. However, there is no evidence that was the case. The house was built in 1930 when Al Capone was in prison. It appears the use of his name was nothing more than a marketing ploy.

What has been confirmed was his stay on the sixth floor of the Hotel Sevilla. It is said he had the floor closed off for use only by him and his entourage.

Regarding his stay at the hotel, journalist and history expert Ciro Bianchi wrote this: “Popular legend says he called a meeting with all the employees serving that floor. He didn’t say much to them. But he gave each of them a one hundred dollar bill.”

That wasn’t the only ostentatious display by the Chicago mafioso. Another of the stories about his stay in Havana took place on Obispo Street, where he bought three Patek Philippe watches at “Le Palais Royal,” the most expensive jewelry store in Havana. He paid $6,000 for them. It is said he kept one of the watches for himself, another for his bodyguard, and the third one was given to a Cuban politician.

Was Al Capone looking for sympathy so nothing would interfere with his business? Was he buying a favor? No one knows to this day, but the third watch ended up on the wrist of Rafael Guas Inclan, who was the President of the House of Representatives at that time and later Vice-President of the Republic at the side of Fulgencio Batista.

There is much more that isn’t known about Al Capone’s stay in Havana, but one photo of him at the gardens of the La Tropical brewery in Marianao has survived.

2 thoughts on “The truth and the myths about Al Capone’s visit to Cuba in the 1920s”

  1. Oh, but everyone knows the Mafia basically ran Havana, and that Havana was like a giant brothel for foreign tourists, and that Cubans were either filthy rich or miserably poor, and that Cuba was a desperately primitive third-world mess and absolutely screaming for revolution…totally unlike now, of course.

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