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The Sugar King of Havana

The true story of a sugar baron’s star-crossed life in Cuba.

The Sugar King of Havana:
The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo
By John Paul Rathbone
Penguin Press
320 pp., $27.95

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Severely wounded by assassins, a dapper man named Julio Lobo lies on an Army hospital bed in Havana and listens as a colonel reassures everyone in the room that Cuba’s “Sugar King” is safe.

There won’t be any problem at all, the colonel declares. The fabulously wealthy man who dominates the island’s most lucrative product can recuperate here as long as he’d like. Then he leans in and whispers a few words to the patient: “But if I were you, I would leave immediately as the people who shot you are nearby.”

Lobo, who had more than a passing interest in films and movie stars of the female variety, might have been reminded of the famous “Casablanca” scene where a police captain declares himself to be “shocked, shocked!” to discover gambling in an establishment, then politely thanks a croupier for his winnings.

Lobo, just barely alive, fled immediately. As his long and productive life showed, he was no fool. And as the man who controlled a big chunk of one of the world’s most desired commodities, he was hardly unfamiliar with two sides of the same coin.

He’d lived through wealth and ruin, and watched his beloved country fall in and out of love with capitalism. Soon, he’d be called on the carpet by Che Guevara and have to make a choice about his future in a country where wealth and capitalism became enemies of the state.


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