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Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I lived in Cuba my entire life until March 30, 2013. I am currently a resident in the city of Miami along with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.

Sex Tourism: The Largest Free-market in Cuba

October 15, 2012 | Print Print |

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez

From the Cuban film “Los Dioses Rotos.”

HAVANA TIMES — When the Cuban government began promoting the tourism industry in the 1990s, it was sex tourism that jump-started that initiative.

Twelve years into the 21st century, they have managed to transition to other more conventional forms of tourism. Eco tourism, family tourism and luxury tourism are gradually coming to occupy prominent places in the industry.

Some people believe the success of these alternative approaches over sex tourism responds to the government’s refusal to legalize prostitution in Cuba. But such a statement might seem pretty naïve.

How many things are banned in this country for us to be surprised by the illegal status of the oldest of all trades? But with this being the case, the comment about other approaches makes a lot of sense.

In informal conversations with housekeepers in hotels, I learned that many tourists travel to Cuba for the sole purpose of having sex with male or female Cubans. About a third of the guests who stay at the hotels where these maids work are single men traveling with groups of friends.

They don’t come with a lot of luggage, nor are they are interested in nature or Cuban society. The lack of interest in these other themes becomes clearer when they have their first opportunity.

The international impact generated by the boom in sex tourism in Cuba in the 1990s had a connotation that was more political than economic.

Today, when the authoritarian bureaucracy that governs the country is challenged by issues of human rights and respect for freedom of thought, the interest of the international media in sex tourism in Cuba is no different from what takes place with any other Caribbean island.

It is no longer raised exclusively to undermine the Cuban government.

Nonetheless, sex tourism continues to demonstrate the relevance of what’s foreign in the Cuban imagination. This is an issue that would show up on the X-rays of many social, political and economic realities as being as explosive as those that “shocked” the international public in the ‘90s.

If today there still survives in anonymity what was previously debated, this is because sex tourism in Cuba is being instituted as a legitimate economic institution.

This is why I was not surprised that the maids who I interviewed were calling for the legalization of prostitution in Cuba. In the near future, we could wind up seeing such an appeal receiving political momentum in the offices of the Ministry of Tourism.

 


What's your opinion?

  • Rafa

    Interesting to read some acknowledgement of the growing issue of sex tourism in Cuba. The fact is that prostitution will never go away. Some countries around the world have woken up and realised that rather than trying to sweep the problem under the rug, they have indeed legalised and regulated it. The result is a noticeable drop in the rate of sexual assaults as well as rates of STI infections, as in the Netherlands, Mexico, New Zealand, etc. Even Canada is currently studying how to possibly regulate it in the future and put protections in place for sex workers. Of course going into that line of work should not be encouraged, but forcing people to go underground will only make it a more dangerous act for those who might have no other way to earn a living.

  • Griffin

    It is tragic, and not a little ironic, that many Cubans are compelled by hunger to prostitute themselves to foreign tourists. It was to rid their island of this sort of economic exploitation that the Cuban people fought a revolution. Now the regime relies upon the foreign currency prostitution brings in.

    • http://www.jerzymade.com jerzy

      What a bias opinion… Looks like you belong to “tea party” kind of people throwing childish accusations pushing pointless blame game around. Influx of turism induces all other business and social activities. Prostitution is just one of many. In fact – it’s one of the signs of tourism economy recovering. So don’t worry – be happy! Long live Fidel! :)

      • Moses

        Sex tourism in Cuba is, by appearances, similar to what takes place in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico. The striking difference in Cuba is that your average prostitute or ¨jinetera¨ in Cuba is likely far better educated. She (or he) could very well be a doctor, or a lawyer or engineer by education. Yet, because of the failed economic system in Cuba, this professional chooses to earn in one day with one ¨client¨ what would not be earned in two months working for Fidel. Long live Fidel indeed.

      • Griffin

        What a truly bizarre comment you make!

        Usually you write against capitalist exploitation of poor people, but when the topic is prostitution, you seem all for it. I’m sure there are a few people who enjoy working as a prostitute, but the vast majority of prostitutes, whether in Cuba or elsewhere do not. It’s a job of necessity, not choice. The failure of the Cuban government to provide real jobs and economic security is what is pushing the growth of prostitution.

        For an interesting, and raw, depiction of prostitution in Cuba today, I recommend the novel, “Tropical Animal” by Pedro-Juan Gutierrez. It’s not a happy life.

  • http://www.GRDPublishing.com Grady Ross Daugherty

    Actually, Yenisel, the philosopher Will Durant once established that, contrary to what most of us believe, the oldest profession is not prostitution, but midwifery. But your point is clear.

    Prostitution is a product of social conditions. It should not be criminalized; it should be legalized and regulated.

    The way to discourage, and hopefully someday to eliminate it is to do away with the social conditions that produce it. This ought to be a no brainner, but authorities all over the world usually take the criminalization approach. It is certainly true in the US.

    The draft program of the US Cooperative Republic Movement puts forward, as part of its 20-plus Bill of Transformation, a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing citizens the legal rights of both sexual prostitution and its patronage. At the same time it severely criminalizes the sexual exploitation and pornographic representation of children; and requires strict regulation of the so-called sex trades.

  • MelanieC

    “In informal conversations with housekeepers in hotels, I learned that many tourists travel to Cuba for the sole purpose of having sex with male or female Cubans. About a third of the guests who stay at the hotels where these maids work are single men traveling with groups of friends.”

    Do have any data to back this up? I’ve stayed in large resorts and casas alike and just by scanning the demographics, one third of the large hotel guests are not single males, are you kidding?More than 2/3 are couples, while the rest are made up of singles and families with kids.

    Sorry, but most of us singles, male or female, do not travel to Cuba to have sex with you. We go for the beach, music, ambiance, weather….I don’t know what makes Cubans think they’re so hot.

  • miagonz

    I was born in cuba, and have been living in the US for the past 18 years. It’s very sad the situation that most cubans live. Sadly, prostitution is a common way to barely make a living in cuba. It’s a though case to manage, because even if prostitution was legalized and regulated, it will most likely not work as intended due to the corruption within the law enforcement officials who are incharged of enforcing laws and regulations. Cuba’s complete government system has to change radically, and the economy has to raise for prostitution to decrease. Although i believe it will never end, atleast reduce to it being a way to make easy money vs a necessity to make ends meet.

  • miagonz

    I was born in cuba, and have been living in the US for the past 18 years. It’s very sad the situation that most cubans live. Sadly, prostitution is a common way to barely make a living in cuba. It’s a though case to manage, because even if prostitution was legalized and regulated, it will most likely not work as intended due to the corruption within the law enforcement officials who are incharged of enforcing laws and regulations. Cuba’s complete government system has to change radically, and the economy has to raise for prostitution to decrease. Although i believe it will never end, atleast reduce to it being a way to make easy money vs a necessity to make ends meet.