The Hookers of La Palma / Iván García

Francisco Mata Rosas Photography. (591PHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

Even before nightfall, under a blazing sun that in the afternoon turns the central area of La Palma into an open air industrial over, the poorer class of jineteras decked out in the cheap clothes strut the four corners of Arroya Naranjo, the poorest neighborhood in Havana, declared on red alert for its high crime rate and numbers of people incarcerated.

They aren’t high class prostitutes. Many are youngsters fleeing from poverty and lack of a future in the remote villages of eastern Cuba. They range from 17 to 40. But it’s not surprising if a girl of 14 or 15 launches herself at you with dizzying speed, offering her sexual favors.

There are several options. The most requested is a quickie. A service that can cost between 60 and 120 Cuban pesos — about $2 to $4 — for a half hour; the client chooses the venue.

If you’re strapped for money you can rent a small dirty room for 20 pesos, a buck. If your wallet permits, there is accommodation in one of the innumerable private rooms. Five convertible pesos   (cuc) — just under $5 — for three hours. Comfortable rooms with air conditioning, hot and cold water, and fridge full of dark Bucanero beer at 1.50 cuc a can.

They also offer food. A TV hangs on the wall attached to a video player where you can see musicals or hard core porn. And in case you forgot, on the table is a carton of condoms from China. Although this latter is seldom lacking; the hard working jineteras of the area always carry several packets of condoms in the pirated-brand-name purses.

La Palma is a crossroads filled with hurrying pedestrians toting their nylon bags in search of food or household supplies.  The roads 10 Octubre, Managua, Bejucel and Porvenir are born and die there. There are hard currency cafés and crummy bars where they sell adulterated rum. Of course these sites are not recommended for tourists passing through Havana.

The regular clients of these prostitutes are often the workers in the agricultural markets or butchers who make good money by selling pork fresh and smoked. Also there are the self-employed and for-hire drivers who after twelve hours of driving revel in a cafe drinking beer and trying to latch onto a voluptuous prostitute.

Late at night La Palma is packed with disco lovers and card players, along with those who run the illegal dice games (casinos) in the area.

In these hours the exchange of sex for money ramps up. And the rooms for rent are full. Then the prostitutes do their work in some dark hallway or along the banks of a stinky creek that runs through the area.

The pimps, discreet, take care of their girls and look for clients. Although there are independent jineteras. Like Yislén, who after sleeping with four or five guys sits on the steps of a sweet shop, counting the handful of bills she keeps between her breasts.

Time to go home, where her six-year-old daughter is waiting for her. “She’s my only kid. I do it for her. I want a her to have a future where she doesn’t suffer the same fate as her mother,” she says while flagging down a cab.

A few years from La Palma is the municipal headquarters of the Communist Party. A billboard faded by time displays one of Fidel Castro’s many sound bites.  Under the sign, hiding in the darkness of Porvenir Avenue, a jinetera gives a client oral sex.

22 June 2012