Mariela Castro in the Red Light District / Jeovany J. Vega

Towards the end of October, sociologist Mariela Castro Espin, Director of the National Center of Sexual Education of Cuba (CENESEX), while on a visit to this country, expressed her admiration for the “dignified manner” with which prostitutes uphold the value of their work in Holland.

But in these latitudes, whose Revolution since its first steps eliminated prostitution and where the sending of thousands of Cubans to the camps of the notorious UMAP* became so naturally institutionalized under the ethereal category of “improper conduct”, this being expressed by the daughter of our President, seen quite suddenly, takes some work to digest.

It is indisputable that Cuban society – not exempt yet from discrimination based on this motive – has become, for the good of all, more tolerant in everything relating to sexuality, including the more permissive modality with which the phenomenon of prostitution is perceived after the upturn in values made acute with the arrival of the 90’s, but it would be well to ask … will we see in 2012 the Director of CENESEX propose the structuring of a “Red Light District” in Havana? Would the “profession” be institutionalized as one more job alternative for the million workers finding themselves furloughed in the last few months? Will our picturesque Jineteras (prostitutes) count on a labor union of their own to represent them? Would they have base leaders, their meetings of associates, their union halls across the whole country? Would this Union be a part of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (Cuba Workers Union) and as such be represented in their congresses? Would our government dare go so far?

Mariela Castro’s words, unsettling for some, surprising for others, are sufficiently eloquent: “I admire and respect the way in which [the prostitutes of the Red Light District] have found a dignified way of doing their sex work and made themselves worthy of respect. Really, it has been a pleasure to get to know directly how they do it … What I have enjoyed the most is seeing how they have known to create a process and dignify the way they make this work worthy, because it is a job. And, moreover, making their rights respected. That seems very important as much as the health care, protection from violence, protection from abuse in a broader sense.

Though she doesn’t clarify how or how much “directly” she knows how the licensed prostitutes “do what they do,” it is indisputable that much of the evolution in the way in which some part of Cuban society projects with respect to homosexual persons and transsexuals, is due in good measure to the work sustained by the CENESEX. Now then, along with this forward step, a different treatment is urged regarding the topic of prostitution and all of this only forms a part of the strategy that seeks to export to the world the mirage of the opening being extended to civil rights, it is a polemic that enters speculative terrain, something many here see as certain.

Not withstanding, today my neighbor Eva, the jinetera, with much faith, did her ministrations to Oshun and to Elegua so they give her her aché (life force), so they sweeten life a little and so that they blaze the trails, a little bit at a time.

*Translator’s note: UMAP (translated into English) stands for Military Units to Aid Production. These were labor camps established in 1965 where undesirables such as homosexuals, “bourgeois,” “counterrevolutionaries,” Jehovah’s Witnesses and others were incarcerated.

Translated by: lapizcero

November 28 2011

To Be Or Not To Be / Jeovany J. Vega

Photograph by Orlando Luis Pardo

The eternal dilemma, to be or not to be, is the capital crossroad that became evident in the life of every Cuban since the 26th of July 1953. This date initiated the stage of struggle that placed into tension the Cuban society of that moment. The verticality that that generation imposed on the enterprise was conducive to the victory of 1959, gave culmination to an exploit that was supported by the majority of sectors of Cuban society of the time. The Revolution triumphed amidst absolute popular jubilation, with the unconditional support of more than 90% of the population. A contribution to this was the discontent engendered by the deep social and political crisis into which Fulgencio Batista and his horde of assassins and corrupts sank the country after their taking of power with the military coup of March of 1952. This, along with the tradition of struggle that spanned the first half of the last century, created the conditions for the overthrow of that dictatorship.

After the triumph, the official discourse, gradually more and more radical, led to, among other consequences, what I would call the great error of the Cuban Revolution: The “revolutionary offensive” of 1968 by which the government of Fidel Castro “intervened” – that is to say, confiscated – all the small enterprises and family businesses, all the way down to the shoe shine stands. This definitively deprived the political Leadership of the country of the support of that not insignificant sector of the population; but this is a matter that is more complex and merits its own post.

Precisely because of the traumatic nature of the history that occurred, I have always been grabbed by incredulity when I hear a Cuban of today expressing that he has no political opinions, as if this was possible in a society as polarized as ours, where there is practically nobody that doesn’t have a relative, a friend, or an acquaintance, that lost their small business, launched himself to the sea looking to escape, or suffered somehow from the lack of civil guarantees. I am of the opinion that the same gregarious and thinking nature of man, imposes on him having a perspective on our social issues, all according to his intellect, his cultural baggage and the degree of information he possesses. That this individual does not dare assume an active militancy or frontal critique, that is a matter for a different discussion, but it is almost always subject to its own judgement.

There will always be the estranged, those who sway to the flux of circumstances like kelp in the bottom of the ocean. In this bundle belong both the fanaticism of the communist militant, who refuses to accept evidence in front of his nose, as well as the “high religiosity” of the believer, that prevents him from involving himself in any matter related to “worldly things” since it contaminates his pure hands. To this we have to add those opportunists who know that by opening their mouths they would lose their slice of the pie, or those who simply see with indifference how this country declines, without moving a muscle unless it is to protect their pocketbooks or to look at the shine of their acrylics. All of them, nonetheless, protest in the intimacy of their kitchens, before the empty pots, or before the thousand faces that reflect misery, but are incapable of expressing themselves publicly, either from indolence or pure cowardice.

At this point, we enter the topic of this dual morality that sinks more than one Cuban up to his neck in manure. In this manner, those who question a physician for talking with sincerity about his honestly earned salary, can be the same ones who embezzle the finances of a state enterprise, or mishandle the people’s resources by appropriating merchandise from a store. In fact, a considerable part of administrators, at all levels of organization, are active Communist militants, and for this, everywhere that a corruption scandal erupts, there is always a “combative” nucleus of the Party and a Union that never saw the corrupts coming, but – such a paradox! – are scandalized if 300 workers sign a document and deliver it to their Ministry. But all those who embezzle, steal or mishandle, can be seen later waving flags and voicing slogans in the parades around the Plaza.

Thus, between the utopia of dreams and the disenchantment of reality, between the to be and the not to be, we see how the promise of the “New Man” dissipates. Maybe it is because this man – not Cuban, not Anglo-Saxon, not Communist or Christian, but a man sui generis – is still not ready to be emancipated from his egotism, to extend his hand in exchange for nothing except the joy of serving. Some day this spiritual hatching will come and this excellent creature, child of man and God, will be reborn, but in the meantime, we have to remember, with each step, the solemn declaration of our Martí, farsighted and sublime, when he said “… a nation is made from men as they are, not as they should be”.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 4 2011