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Between Neglect and Helplessness.

Between Neglect and Helplessness. Prostitution in Cuba, Part 3 / Miriam
Posted on September 16, 2013

Official secrecy and complicit silence

The original sin of the “Cuban Revolution” in relation to prostitution
lies not in the fact of its not being able to eradicate it, a clearly
impossible task, but in denying its very existence. Such a denial
doesn’t only retard the search for solutions for social problems —
sexual slavery, drug trafficking, child prostitution, the spread of
sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS, etc. — that have appeared on
the Island, but also prevents the population from having a clear
perception of the issue and its social implications.

By excluding the issue from public debate it remains buried under less
pressing emergencies related to economic survival and the precariousness
of material resources. At the same time, these very privations
accelerate the the deterioration of moral values, and feed the growth of
prostitution, especially among teenagers under 18, who constitute the
most vulnerable sector. A vicious circle that closes in on itself with a
Gordian knot that seems to have no solution.

The end of innocence

While many adult women have chosen for themselves the path of
prostitution, it is not less true that the entry of minors into the
profession is ever more frequent. Eighteen marks the age of sexual
consent in Cuba, but it is not rare to find girls between 13 and 17 who
have already become prostitutes.

These kinds of activities, although prohibited by current laws, are
difficult to detect due the complex web of illegalities that has been
consolidated in the heat of impunity, and that now includes the networks
of “recruiters” (generally older prostitutes and pimps), brothels —
often protected behind the facade of a legal business, clandestine
hostels, etc. — and, in some cases, with the complicity of law enforcement.

Police corruption, meanwhile, can be gross or subtle and ranges from
simple extortion of the prostitute to the direct participation in
obtaining monetary benefits under the concept of protecting the
business; but in all cases it constitutes an important obstacle in
combating this scourge.

According to the testimonies of several prostitutes, some police
officers who cover shifts at certain key points in the capital receive
direct payment from them, or from the employees of neighborhood bars, to
permit both the trafficking of these sex workers as well as the
clandestine trade in rum and cigars that is a scam usually played on
unsuspecting foreigners. Prostitutes and bartenders have established a
kind of mutually beneficial professional collaboration and have created
true niches of corruption, particularly in poor areas of dubious
reputation, such as Chinatown in Havana or San Rafael Boulevard.

The absence of institutions

In addition, some life stories suggest that the majority of minors who
venture into the world of prostitution come from dysfunctional families
and have grown up in hostile homes, both materially and affectionately,
without there being any institutions truly responsible for their safety
and protection.

A sample study conducted with a group of young prostitutes between the
ages of 15 and 25, allows the conclusion that almost all of the cases
came from dysfunctional homes, that prostitution among minors is a
growing trend, and that the representatives of the repressive bodies or
the courts are the only representatives of any official institution with
which they have had any contact or relationship, whether it be to be
blackmailed, arrested or punished; but never to offer them an
alternative life or to enroll them in some social program that allows
them to overcome the serious existential conflicts facing them.

Some of them are completely lacking in family support, others have minor
children, are school dropouts, have used drugs at least once, and/or
smoke and drink alcoholic beverages regularly.

The issue is compounded because it appears that there is no national
program, nor even a local one, charged with supporting those who, given
their particular circumstances, have taken to prostitution as a way to
solve their material problems, not even for those who have lived in
conditions of extreme poverty and lack of attention in dysfunctional
homes, those who have been abandoned by their families, or for those who
have been systematically abused, including by their own close family

Such helplessness is even more inexplicable given that, for over half a
century, the Government has developed organizations dedicated to
“surveillance” on every block through the so-called Committees for the
Defense of the Revolution (CDR), or to the needs and defense of women
through the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). An institutional structure
that, had it functioned in the social interest or fulfilled its founding
principles, would have been capable of controlling this evil from the

Neither the Government nor independent civil society

Even though the problem of child prostitution potentially affects
thousands of families, it does not seem to arouse significant interest
on the part of the Government, largely responsible for the fate of so
many frustrations; the same Government whose educational system, for
decades, has robbed parents of their authority and awarded the
“paternalistic” State custody of children, teenagers and young people,
now abandoned to their own bad luck.

More worrying still is that not even within the alternative spaces is
there a particular interest in this matter. In any case, a debate on the
topic is not emerging, nor are there civic proposals that take it on, to
any extent, from independent civil society. This suggests that perhaps
there is an underlying accumulation of moral prejudices or traditional
taboos that prevent the same sectors which have opened spaces for
questions as complex as racial discrimination or sexual diversity, from
taking on the challenge of the debate about prostitution and its social

But far beyond the lack of resources, what is really alarming is the
apparent lack of political will within all parties to approach one of
the most complex issues that Cuban social reality is facing in the near

From DiariodeCuba

Prostitution in Cuba:
Part 1.
Part 2.

9 September 2013

Source: “Between Neglect and Helplessness. Prostitution in Cuba, Part 3
/ Miriam Celaya | Translating Cuba” –

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