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