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Cuba Project: Castro, Kennedy, and the FBI's Tamale Squad


A sexy, shoot-em-up telling of the CIA and FBI's attempts to take control of Castro's Cuba before and during the Kennedy administration, Pavia's colorful account reveals high-stakes bumbling and wishful thinking on the part of U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials. The story features a bold cast of characters: Casino owners, washed up oddities like actor Errol Flynn, mob boss Santo Trafficante, and a covert band of ex-cons dubbed the "Doughnut Army" converge with countless agents trying to keep a lid on the ...

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A sexy, shoot-em-up telling of the CIA and FBI's attempts to take control of Castro's Cuba before and during the Kennedy administration, Pavia's colorful account reveals high-stakes bumbling and wishful thinking on the part of U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials. The story features a bold cast of characters: Casino owners, washed up oddities like actor Errol Flynn, mob boss Santo Trafficante, and a covert band of ex-cons dubbed the "Doughnut Army" converge with countless agents trying to keep a lid on the tinderbox of revolutionary Cuba and Cuban Miami. The book is based on extensive interviews with the American Cold Warriors who lived and breathed "The Cuba Project."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Pavia has ransacked the early Castro years for their sleaze quotient, resurrected forgotten vignettes, and trained his gaze on G-men, gangsters, and broken down celebrities to tell their stories in his own voice. An exciting collision between hard history and tabloid ravings."—Legs McNeil, bestselling author of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

"A streetcorner poet patriot, Pete Pavia, in a voice of the Rat Pack reborn, tells a story from America's past that illuminates the present. An exiled community, supported by would-be American controllers-of-the-world, desperately plots its return to power. Sound familiar? Pavia's depiction of Cuba informs our understanding of American foreign policy from Vietnam to Iraq. Populated with gangsters and swashbucklers from George Raft and Errol Flynn to Meyer Cohen, Kennedy, Castro and Che Guevara. He uncovers the den of thieves where the politician deals in the cheat and the killer and the devil is the dealer. Where a made man can commit a kill and believe he's a patriot. He shakes the chains on the ghosts of our haunted generation. Pete Pavia is the big brother you never had, here to tell you how the world really works. Listen to his heart."—Andrew Huebner, author of We Pierce and American By Blood

"Pavia's The Cuba Project is a vivid memorialization of one of the most important chapters of the Cold War—where the weed of communism sprouts in the United States' back yard and American might is humbled by its failure to stomp it out." — Colin Beavan, author of Operation Jedburgh

Publishers Weekly
This shallow history of America's multifaceted anti-Castro machinations chronicles the misadventures of four interlocking groups: Cuban exiles in Miami, seething with quixotic plans to oust Castro; the FBI's "Tamale Squad," charged with keeping a lid on them and chasing Cuban agents in the U.S.; the CIA, working to organize a paramilitary overthrow of Castro; and American mobsters motivated by Castro's shuttering of their Havana casinos to help the CIA assassinate him. Journalist Pavia (coauthor of The Other Hollywood, about the porn industry) frames this confluence of insurgents, spies, gangsters and gumshoes as a glamorous Cold War cultural efflorescence (he recounts Havana's fall through the eyes of actor George Raft, besieged in his casino by angry crowds), but it's an unstylish story of dour ineptitude. The Tamales mainly do mundane police work, the expatriates bicker, the assassination and invasion plots fizzle toward the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the gangsters supply some color but no excitement. Pavia relies heavily on interviews with grizzled Cold Warriors like CIA agent/Watergate felon E. Howard Hunt and seems to have imbibed their glib anticommunism, thus foregoing any serious assessment of American policy toward Cuba. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An account of the early years of official anti-Castroism, forged in the certainty that "America was good, and America was good for the rest of the world."Working through books and articles on the period between Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959 and the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, and adding to them interviews with now-retired FBI agents and other cold warriors, novelist/journalist Pavia (Dutch Uncle, not reviewed) turns in a tale of spy-versus-spy that makes neither side look good. The Havana of the 1950s was a demimonde of brothels and casinos thoroughly under the thumb of American organized crime; on that point, Pavia's account of movie idol and minor mobster George Raft would be touching were its subject not so loathsome, if less so than Errol Flynn, who "loved Cuba because he could act whatever way he wanted-usually badly-and not have to worry about Hollywood gossipmongers bloodhounding his tracks." All that changed when the intensely moral-minded Castro rolled into town and threw out the corrupt government-and began executing its soldiers and minor functionaries on Stalinist charges of genocide. The U.S. responded with the formation of an FBI group called the Tamale Squad, a curious moniker given that tamales are a foodstuff of Mexico and Central America, but one that speaks to the agency's renowned tin ear. Then CIA types like Howard Hunt started spooking around, dreaming up damage. Then came the formation of anti-Castro militias, well-funded by the Kennedy administration (anti-Castro activity first began under Eisenhower), though easily infiltrated by Castro's agents. Pavia's sometimes too-breezy tale ("Kennedy was all about youth and vigor and good looks and ambition")continues with the catastrophe at the Bay of Pigs; Pavia's account of that grim, useless battle is the best part of the book. An uneven summary of a very strange history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781403966032
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/21/2006
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Pavia is the author of Dutch Uncle, a novel, and co-author of The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry. His work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, New York Post, GQ, Detour, and Gear. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

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Table of Contents

Viva La Revolucion!

• A Tale of Two Miamis

• The Tamale Squad

• "The Revolution has Nothing to Ask For"

• Nazi Spies

• History Precedes Itself First as Farce: The Strange Story of the Donut Army

• The Real Deal

• The Hook

• Politics by Other Means

• His Own Good

• La Bahia de Cochinos

• We Might Have Stood Had I Not Fallen

• The Past Remains Prologue

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2006

    Cuba, 1959 and Habakkuk in Pavia's words

    From the book's opening line regarding the American need to recall 1959 and it's security and splendor, we are pulled into a world that Pavia patiently helps us to discern. Nothing is as it seemed. Everything will be more apparent if we can be patient. The characters and times come to life, as Pavia allows us to know these people. Nearly fifty years safely distant, we can honestly view our own actions and fears. A certain sadness at what might have been, and then, acceptance for how America moved through and past its adolescence.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer


    This is an interesting though biased account of American-Cuban relations during the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administration. This nonfiction work digs deep into Havana when American mobsters ran casinos in the 1950s as Hollywood stars loved pre-Castro Cuba as a playground in which they could buy anything including items illegal in the States. The odd events take a twist with the formation of the FBI Tamale Squad (don¿t ask why) as an anti communist move loaded with plenty of money and easy for Castro to place moles inside it. Looking back, Castro was the moralist kicking out a hedonistic dictator, gangsters and depraved wealthy Americans. Though lacking the points of view of Castro and his loyalists, Peter Pavia has written an intriguing look from the perspective of the Cuban exile and American participants (including the CIA) in their efforts to remove Castro from power circa 1959-1963 especially with the Bay of Pugs fiasco. THE CUBA PROJECT is also much more as Mr. Pavia also presents a cautionary undertone that leads readers to ponder perhaps America is repeating many of the same errors today.------------ Harriet Klausner

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