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The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba's Last Tycoon

1 rating: 5.0
A book by John Paul Rathbone

Starred Review. The rise and fall of sugar trader Julio Lobo becomes a window into prerevolutionary Cuba, the mechanics of building an economic empire--and the authorÖs own personal history--in this atmospheric biography by Rathbone, deputy head … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Biographies, Cuba, Cuban History
Author: John Paul Rathbone
Genre: History, Biography
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The
1 review about The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall...

It is about a man, but even more it is about Cuba and what was happening to the society

  • Jul 6, 2010
One point of the history of the western hemisphere that is rarely pressed to any depth is the relationship the United States has had with the countries of the hemisphere south of its' borders. These relationships are very complicated and probably the most complicated of all has been that with the island nation of Cuba. When the island is mentioned, it is generally in relation to the communist government of Fidel Castro and how the collective opinion of the Cuban exile community will affect an American election.
This book is a history of the island as it relates to one of the richest Cubans, how he made, spent and eventually lost his fortune. Before the Communists gained power in Cuba, the production of sugar was the main industry and Julio Lobo was one of the titans of that industry. He was so powerful that he was even able to stand up and overcome the powerful American corporate interests, cornering the sugar market to his and Cuba's benefit.
While he was extremely wealthy, Lobo was a modest man; he was one of the few sugar tycoons that took a deep interest in his workers. Unlike most other owners he visited his plantations and mills and personally spoke to many of the workers. When Cubans opposed to his interests were criticizing Lobo, the labor union representing his workers issued a strong message of support for him.
However, the real interesting aspect of this book is the downward spiral that the Cuban society was seemingly locked into. The succession of dictatorships was each worse than the previous and semi-open warfare between several factions was taking place. Government corruption increased dramatically so there was a power vacuum when Batiste suddenly fled unannounced from his position as president.
Lobo was caught in that tide of change, all of the good works that he had done for Cuba counted for nothing when he had a late-night meeting with Che Guevara where he was told that his properties were being confiscated by the state. Although Lobo was "asked" to continue to manage some of his sugar holdings, he understood quite clearly that all could be taken at any time. Therefore, he fled the island for the United States with only his clothing, a small suitcase and what he had in his pockets. His "forced" departure from the island may have been the greatest blow to the Cuban economy that Fidel Castro could possibly have dealt.
This is a book about the Cuban society, how it evolved from the time of independence, economically fluctuated according to the price of sugar and ultimately went Communist. It is fascinating to get a glimpse into the life of a man that was one of the most significant people in Cuban society, generally a good man but one that is almost never mentioned in the history books. With that glimpse, you also peer deeply into what Cuba was like from approximately 1910 until Castro imposed his Communist dictatorship.

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