Prostitution in Cuba
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    The Many Faces of a Conflict

    The Many Faces of a Conflict / Miriam Celaya
    Posted on August 22, 2013

    In Cuba there are no institutions that guarantee the rights of the most
    vulnerable. Prostitution is not even mentioned as a problem by the

    It is said that prostitution is the oldest occupation in the world.
    There aren’t any cultures whose histories have not recorded the practice
    of sexual services in exchange for money or something of value. Other
    forms of prostitution are fashioned in exchange for favors or privileges.

    Prostitution’s time-worn persistence throughout the ages offers an
    almost infinite variety of forms, circumstances and considerations,
    sociological and psychological as well as historical, economic,
    gender-associated and even political. The darker margins of the
    phenomenon today refer to the trafficking of women through international
    networks specializing in human trafficking for sexual means –- victims
    of which are illegal immigrants and young people in impoverished areas —
    slavery and, specifically, the trafficking and sexual exploitation of

    Prostitution in ‘Revolutionary’ Cuba’

    Recently, the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald published an article about
    the so-called prostitution’s “hustling” (George Porta, El Jineterismo es
    una Forma de Genocidio [Prostitution is a Form of Genocide] ), which
    brings into discussion the issue of prostitution in a country that was
    considered a territory free of the sex trade in the decades following 1959.

    “Hustling” is the expression in the marginal vocabulary that defined the
    prostitution that started to proliferate more strongly in Cuba since the
    decade of the 90’s of the last century, fueled by the economic crisis
    after the collapse of the former USSR and the socialist camp, and the
    increase of tourism as an alternative, developed by the government to
    generate foreign exchange income. Thus, it is all the more controversial
    because Cuban prostitutes in the last 20 years don’t stem from — as
    often happens in other underdeveloped nations — social sectors hit by
    illiteracy, ignorance and other similar afflictions, but are members of
    generations formed and indoctrinated in supposedly superior moral
    principles of “the new man” and many of them hold significant
    educational levels.

    The image of the poor naïve country girl, deceived by some wily suitor
    who “disgraced” her and ended up exploiting her in some brothel in a
    provincial city center or at the capital was left back in pre-1959
    history. Today’s prostitute is usually a young woman who has completed
    at least the ninth grade and who consciously uses her sexual attributes
    to achieve, in a brief time, the material benefits that she knows she
    cannot achieve from a salary or from the practice of a technological or
    professional university career.

    The “hustling” does not represent a homogeneous caste either. This is a
    well-differentiated phenomenon in layers or strata, by category, age,
    physical attributes, qualifications, aspirations, relationships and
    other factors, of the young woman in question. Thus, there are different
    types, from the cheap street “jineteritas”**, that satisfy quick sex in
    a car or in a hallway or small room in a hovel to the spectacular and
    expensive prostitutes at gyms and spas, beautiful and refined, providing
    a more “personalized” service, many of whom dream of an advantageous
    marriage to a dazzled foreign tourist or to some executive at a
    mixed-capital firm, or to accumulate sufficient funds to emigrate by

    Between both extremes is a world of prostitutes of the most diverse
    conditions and goals, many whose minimal objective is to survive
    day-to-day, with no plans or ambitions, dependent on a reality without
    expectations for a future.

    However, the causes of prostitution in Cuba, though they relate to the
    ongoing economic crisis and the rise of international tourism, are
    deeply rooted in the deterioration of other values not necessarily
    linked to the issue of gender inequality, sexism or oppression of women.
    The phenomenon is much more complex and has deep surges, a legacy of the
    vulgar egalitarianism that prevailed in the years of subsidized socialism.

    Sometime after, there was an inversion of values in Cuba in the social
    appreciation of the prostitute. Many of these women who used to sell
    their sexual services to foreigners in the 90’s – previously a reason
    for disdain and social stigma – turned into a sort of popular heroines,
    when they became family providers and sometimes even benefactors of
    their distressed neighbors. In particular, the “class” prostitutes who
    often provided medicine, hygiene products or food to the most destitute,
    significantly changed the perception of the profession: to prostitute
    oneself was not only more lucrative, but could be considered as a source
    of solidarity and prestige. By the way, by then, we Cubans were not that

    The same transformation did not take place with the lower-class
    prostitute. Segregationist prejudice gained momentum starting in those
    years, stemming from differentiations in purchasing power which
    spontaneously settled among prostitutes as well. Before Castro, the
    poorest prostitutes were popularly known as “coffee with milk”. Today’s
    are “sugar water.”

    Having said that, could a jinetera always be defined as a victim of
    gender and of poverty? Does jineterismo, as in prostitution in Cuba,
    adjust itself to the definition of “genocide” that the article in El
    Nuevo Herald proclaims? Personally, I prefer to turn away from the hype.
    It is a fact that prostitution as a social phenomenon favors the
    proliferation of related crimes: pimping, human trafficking, gender
    exploitation, drug trafficking, etc. It is also axiomatic that the
    material shortages, coupled with the moral crisis, stimulate the spread
    of prostitution in Cuba.

    However, beyond social “tolerance”, experience shows that there are
    survival options not associated with prostitution that were adopted by
    most of the women in Cuba, even in the worst moments of the crisis, and
    that a high percentage of prostitutes voluntarily elected that
    profession as the most expeditious, for profit and not just for “reasons
    of survival.” Thus, a large number of prostitutes do not feel the need
    to be “liberated” from an activity that offers them what, in their
    perception, is defined as “freedom”: purchasing power above the Cuban

    It isn’t about denying the existence of prostitution either, or the
    importance of anticipating its consequences, but about more accurately
    interpreting the facts. Assuming the inevitable, everything points to
    the certainty that prostitution has returned to stay: there is no
    tourist destination that doesn’t attract this type of profession. So
    what will matter is how we’ll deal with it.

    In principle, any adult of sound mind is the owner of her own body and
    of her acts, as long as she does not undermine the rights of others, so
    being a prostitute or not would be – in the first place – a matter of
    choice, depending on whether the law determines if it constitutes a
    crime or not, and whether they pursue related criminal activities.
    Another issue is when a person is forced into prostitution, in which
    case it is a flagrant violation of her rights as a human being.

    It is reprehensible that there are no institutions in Cuba capable of
    guaranteeing the rights of vulnerable social sectors, that prostitutes
    are unprotected, that the prostitution of minors is not prosecuted and
    condemned severely, that the roots of evil are not confronted, and that
    laws are almost always limited to punishment (the so-called
    “re-education”) of the prostitute, the weakest link in the chain. Cuban
    prostitutes, especially the “street” ones, are more likely to be victims
    of violence, whether by a pimp or by police extortion. On not few
    occasions the pimp and the police are the same person.

    The issue of prostitution is hot, and it’s even part of the political
    agenda in many developed countries. Some current proposals focus on the
    regulation of prostitution, previously legalized, though a strong trend
    has also developed in favor of criminalizing the purchase of sexual
    services and not their sale.

    In Cuba, unfortunately, we are very far away from instituting an
    effective strategy on the subject. It is known that the first step is to
    recognize the existence of the phenomenon, submit it for public debate
    and study its scope and social consequences, which requires the
    political will of the government: all of it a chimera

    In any case, this could well be an important point on the agenda of many
    independent Cuban organizations interested in problems with a civilian
    edge. So far, there are no thematic programs on the issue in the
    emerging civil society. Starting and sustaining the debate will be the
    initial stimulus that will unleash the proposals.

    *Jinetera: female jockey or horse rider, used graphically in the context
    of hustling.

    **Jineterita: diminutive form sometimes used to describe an unimportant,
    insubstantial, or young prostitute.

    Translated by Norma Whiting

    21 August 2013

    Source: “The Many Faces of a Conflict / Miriam Celaya | Translating
    Cuba” –

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