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    From a Cuban Tenement to an Italian Brothel: The High Price of Escape

    Yoani Sanchez Award-Winning Cuban Blogger

    From a Cuban Tenement to an Italian Brothel: The High Price of Escape
    Posted: 05/30/11 02:20 PM ET

    She was raised to succeed. As a little girl, her mother took the fried
    egg of her own plate, if need be, to give it to her, because she was a
    promise which the whole family was hanging from. They didn't even let
    her scrub, so that her hands would not crack and harden from the
    scouring pad and the soot. When she combed her hair into ringlets her
    elder sister predicted she would one day marry a Frenchman or a Spaniard
    or a Belgian, someone from the "nobility" of monarchy or business.

    "Everyone will love you!" cried her grandmother, whose fingers were
    twisted with arthritis from half a century of washing and ironing for
    the whole street. They wouldn't even let her have a boyfriend in the
    neighborhood, because she had to be preserved for the future that
    awaited her, for the potentate who would come and take her from that
    crowded tenement in Zanja Street, from that crowded country in the

    One day, when she was barely out of adolescence, she found him. He was
    much older and didn't belong to any wealthy family, but he had an
    Italian passport. Nor did she like him physically, but simply imagining
    him in Milan made his bulging beer belly look not so big. The aroma of
    the new clothes he brought every time he came to Havana also covered the
    smell of nicotine and alcohol that always came from his mouth.

    At home, her family was delighted. "The child is leaving us to live in
    Europe," they told the neighbors, and her own mother cut her off when
    she tried to explain that her fiancé that occasionally became violent
    and beat her. And so they pushed her to complete the legal paperwork and
    make the marriage official. In the wedding photos she looked like a sad
    princess, but a princess.

    When the plane landed in the Italian winter, he no longer seemed like
    the kind man who, 24 hours earlier, had promised her mother that he
    would take care of her. He took her to a club that same night where she
    had to work serving clients liquor, and even her own body. For months
    she wrote her grandmother about the perfumes and food she had tried in
    her new life. She recreated, in her letters and phone calls, a reality
    very different from what she was living. Not a word of extortion, nor of
    the husband who had evaporated leaving her in the hands of a "boss" whom
    she had to obey.

    In the Havana tenement they had all spoiled her and made her happy and
    she didn't want to disappoint them. When the Italian police dismantled
    the prostitution ring in which she was trapped, she sent a brief text
    message to her relatives on the other side of the Atlantic, so they
    wouldn't worry, "I won't be able to call you for several weeks. I'm
    going on vacation to Venice to celebrate my wedding anniversary. I love
    you all, your Princess."

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