Previous to the revolution, Cuba was often used as a brothel for the US tourists. In 1959, when Fidel Castro took power, there was a significant crack down on prostitution in Cuba. Those who had been previously been prostitutes became educated professionals. Prostitution decreased rapidly and maintained that low rate for several decades.
In the early 1990’s, the Soviet Union fell. They were the main economic supporter to Cuba’s economy and when that was compounded with the tightening restrictions on the US blockade, Cuba was spiraled rapidly into severe economic crisis. This was referred to as the “special period.” The only thing special about it was that the GDP was effectively cut in half over night. Can you imagine waking up tomorrow and you and everyone you know have your salaries cut basically in half but your costs of living stay the same?
Cubans became immediately desperate. The government’s response was to open its doors wide open to tourism to obtain some of that badly needed foreign currency. As tourism increased, so did prostitution and the government ignored it. Perhaps because of the much-needed boost in the economy and perhaps justified by the idea that woman want to, the government denies there is a problem. Fidel Castro was quoted in the 1990’s saying that Cuban women are not “forced to sell themselves to a man, to a foreigner, to a tourist. Those who do so do …without any need for it,” he declared. “We can say that they are highly educated hookers and quite healthy, because we are the country with the lowest numbers of AIDS cases…Therefore, there is truly no prostitution healthier than Cuba’s.” (Miami Herald)
While the government technically provides enough to survive, it is not enough to really get by, particularly for single mothers who in a state job would maybe earn $12-20 a month and cooking oil is still $3. A night of sex with a foreigner could earn between $30 and $100 on average. Cubans are resourceful, they are fighters and they are survivors. When prostitution began to rise Coco Fusco said it best, “I get the sense that on the street these woman are perceived as heroic providers whose mythical sexual power is showing up the failures of an ailing macho regime.” The regime did fail it’s people in economic security and it’s people paid the price.
Jineterismo is the other side to prostitution is a very fluid term that can take on many forms of hustling tourists. It is here that a Cuban man or woman are particularly friendly and draw tourists into specific situations. This could be just showing you a special local bar and you end up buying several rounds of overpriced drinks for them. It also could end up being meeting a Cuban local and going to dinner, dancing, drinks, clothes, etc. It could end with sex, but it’s not necessarily a formal monetary transaction. It can be having a dedicated girlfriend/boyfriend that you pay for their house. The ultimate goal can be to marry, leave Cuba for an easier life and support the family at home.
Regardless of the motivations or weather you call it prostitution or jinterterismo, if tourists aren’t thoughtful about how they approach intimate encounters with locals in Cuba, it can ultimately be exploitation.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article1948284.html#storylink=cpy
The Bodies that Were Not Ours: And Other Writings – by Coco Fusco