Iván García, 5 August 2016 — In the middle of the empty bottles of aged rum and the Presidente Dominican beer washed down on the patio, five people are drinking and talking about sports and business. From the back comes the sound of the Reggaeton, Hasta que se seque el Malecón, [“Until the Malecón dries up”] of Jacob Forever [a Reggaeton star].
Meanwhile, four girls are taking turns with a chipped soda can, inhaling a mix of cocaine and a bite of cigar, known in Cuba as cambolo.
The party can very well cost the equivalent of 200 dollars. Eduardo, a mid-level official in Foreign Commerce, sums up the expenses: “Forty-eight convertible pesos [CUC] for two boxes of beer, 40 CUC for five bottles of aged rum, 25 for four kilos of chicken and two tins of tuna for snorting, and 100 CUC for the drugs and whores.”
And what are they celebrating? “Nothing special. In Cuba you celebrate anything. A success is the same as a failure. We’re not going to resolve the economic crisis by struggling. When you have a little bit of money, that’s synonymous with a party, sex and pachanga music. There doesn’t have to be anything more,” comments Armando, the owner of a private auto repair business.
Now it’s common, at least in Havana, for a group of friends to rent a swimming pool or a house and bring in food, Reggaeton music and prostitutes to have fun. In the summer, hookers like Elisa take advantage of the prosperity to fatten their wallets.
In private bars, discos and central areas, the hookers prowl around without much discretion. They stand out: very short, skin-tight skirts and strong perfume.
“The clients are drawn to us like moths to a flame. There are nights when you can make up to 250 CUC. In the morning, an Italian; in the afternoon, a Spaniard; and at night, an old Cuban,” says Elisa.
And the economic crisis? The new stage of austerity? “That’s for those who work for the State. Those who have private businesses, who work in tourism or make money under the table continue enjoying life in style. They break open a can and a heap of hookers appear. There are more of us every time,” says Elisa.
And the prognosis points to continued growth. At least that’s what Carlos, a sociologist who lives south of the capital, thinks. “In periods of economic hardship, people opt for the easiest way to make money. During the Special Period, only between 1993 and 2000, prostitution in Cuba took off and expanded. They weren’t only in the tourist sector. They began to operate among that portion of Cubans who have businesses, and now you can see them in poor neighborhoods where entertainment consists of drinking alcohol and flirting with cheap hookers.”
The number of prostitutes in Cuba is unknown. The sociologist beleives that the figure “is greater than 20,000 women on the whole island. If we add the men who prostitute themselves, the level could reach 30,000 people. To that you have to add those who live off the business, like the pimps, corrupt policeman, tourism employees, owners of rental houses, taxi drivers and photographers, among others. We’re talking about an enterprise.”
The tourist boom on the island is a very tempting treat for many young girls whose families are a living hell. “Although most of those who prostitute themselves belong to dysfunctional families, cases of young people from decent families without economic problems are growing. They are dazzled by the good life, easy money or the possibility of getting a visa,” clarifies Laura, an ex-social worker.
It’s probable that, in 2017, the number of foreign visitors will surpass four million. And if the U.S. Congress authorizes tourism, the figure could round off at five million.
American tourists are very much sought-after in Cuba. They are known for being generous with tips and for paying by the hour to go to bed with a woman or a man.
Yaité, an ex-hooker, now married to a German, considers that “prices could go up. In the ’80s it was 100 CUC. Then, because there were so many hookers and because the tourists who came to Cuba weren’t very rich, the cost went down to 30 to 40 CUCs for a night. Now it can go up. And an American could pay up to 200 CUC for a young, pretty prostitute with a good body.
Elisa, a hooker, prays to her saints that this prophecy comes true.
Hispanost, August 1, 2016.
Translated by Regina Anavy