Havana, Cuba – The colonial authorities never imagined that the covered portals of the buildings and homes of Havana, a mandatory construction to protect pedestrians from the sun, rain and night dew would have another use, also very human.
E.O.F., age 31, counts on the notoriety, although not exclusively, of the portals of Monte street. Or rather Monte and Cienfuegos, the sin corner.
“There is a secret commerce after eleven at night. In the past, you’d find nothing. For a few months pretty women of different ages and races are parked there. They accost the men, inviting them for ’a good time.’ They knew what they were doing there and why men were there at that time. An occupation easy to recognize from the way they walk, the really short skirts, tight clothing, vivid lip colors, eyebrows and eyelashes. Prices are adjusted with few words. They accompany them to a nearby room and pay the rent. In the end, they’re paid. ’A good time…’”
EOF explains a curiosity, “There is no commerce with homosexuals and transvestites with intermediaries. Not from discrimination. They’ve found their half-tolerated space on the Malecon, the Coppelia ice cream parlor, and other places in the capital, although at times the police harass them.
“Now you don’t see them in any of the doorways. It’s the intermediary. He approaches, asking, ’Looking for a girl. They’re good, nice and cheap.’
Five CUC (in domestic currency, one CUC=25 Cuban pesos) for the jinetera [hooker*], one CUC for the intermediary, and another CUC for renting a room for an hour in some solar [as the tenements are called in Havana]. For the most part small, dark, warm, not very clean.
“You go and six or seven women, who a minute ago were chatting, laughing, drinking, between puffs of smoke, stand up. Not for courtesy but intentionally, rubbing their breasts, biting their lips, trying to be chosen. It’s hard to decide, you have to choose fast, pay by the hour, and not overstay your time. Outside two strong guards have the keys and twist the arms of those who try to leave without paying.
“We climb up to the ’barbecue’ [an improvised platform to extend the space]. Generally there are two ’rooms’ separated by a wood partition across which you can hear the whispers and imagine the positions. Not very hygienic rooms. The same sheet all night. Sometimes no water to wash with. No towels, just newspapers. I ask ’Violeta,’ my occasional companion about the chance of catching AIDS. Immediate response, ’Without a condom, nothing!’”
Alejo Carpentier (1904-1980), a Cuban writer and musicologist called Havana “The City of Columns” (1970). The doorways of houses and important commercial establishments were well-lit at dusk on Monte, Reina, Belascoaín, Paseo del Prado and Diez de Octubre streets. So many that it was pure pleasure to walk along the colonnades and contemplate the full shop windows, ruined, in shadows, with many gaps from the sad collapses of our patrimony.
“Why have the jineteras — a word accepted as natural — disappeared from the doorways?”
“The police step up the repression streak against prostitution. Sometimes they resolve it with some fulitas (CUCs — hard currency). But if they’re… A….s, not even that. They grab us and we end up in jail. The situation is tough. But many women and men live this.”
A report from the Minister of Justice published on the website of Foreign Ministry last October, said that 241 people were prosecuted for the crime of pimping. Of them 224 were found guilty. Formerly prostitute was relegated and controlled by the authorities to the so-called Tolerance Zones, which now permeates the city.
“And what if the police surprise them in the room?”
“Every trade has risks. We would test fate saying that we are friends who are celebrating one of our birthdays, and may God protect us!”
*Translator’s note: The word for hooker/prostitute in Cuban Spanish, jinetera, comes from “jockey.”
Cubanet, 31 January 2014, Reinaldo Emilio Cosano Alén