Prostitution in Cuba: Denied at Home, Enabled from Abroad

Graham Sowa

From the Cuban film “Los dioses rotos” (The Broken Gods).

HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba the denial of prostitution is a lie of omission: the government doesn’t really talk about it.  At the same time American politicians promote a travel ban that seriously damages United States efforts to identify and prosecute child sex tourism.

Few people in Cuba want to talk about prostitution.  I’ve been here for three years and I have yet to see any type of campaign against prostitution or sex tourism. Denial that prostitution is rampant in the tourist sector is an outright lie. Anyone who disagrees is invited to walk down Obispo Street with me (this is a serious offer). You will think the only services offered to tourists in Havana Vieja are taxis and blowjobs.

Police are often witness to the solicitation. I’ve never seen them intervene. I’m left to wonder if they are paid in-kind or in cash for their see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil approach to their job.

I know right now those readers who defend Cuba out of reactionary habit are preparing their anecdotal story about how sex crimes with minors are prosecuted in Cuba. And those stories are probably true. But they don’t originate from the official news here.

Not the crime, not the societal problem, not the obvious police corruption and not even the successful prosecution (of what I am left to imagine are a very small percentage of cases) are addressed at any level higher than street gossip among neighbors.

Child sex tourism (or child rape tourism as it should be known as) not only exists, but is literally killing Cuban children.  I refer here to a good piece of journalism from the Miami Herald about a 12 year old girl who was statutorily raped to death by European and Cuban tourists.

The Cuban authorities acted appropriately and tried and jailed the rapists.  Of course we read nothing in the local newspapers about the crime or punishment.

In a problem this grave both Cuba and the United States share blame. And while I would like to see both countries take a much more hard-line approach to child rape tourism that involves civil society; as a United States citizen I’m going to appeal to my homeland.

In the United States the story ran one day in the Miami-Herald and I could not find any syndication in other newspapers, not even the European ones.  So I can’t say my society is very interested in making this problem known either.

The same day the Toronto Star ran an article about child rape tourism in Cuba originating from Canada after a lengthy Canadian Government investigation of the sick enterprise.

But the Cuban problem in Cuba is only one half of the picture.  As far as the United States is concerned the extreme right Miami-Cuban community continues to support a travel ban that has made it all but impossible to track and prosecute child rapists for their pedophilic visits to Cuba.

The octagenarian anti-Fidelistas will sometimes harp on prostitution as a reason why the Revolution has failed.  (Even though I have no idea how they would ban it if they somehow took power again.  I can only imagine it would get worse with floods of Cuban-Americans returning to the island.)

But the Cuban-Americans never take the discussion about sex tourism further than superficial criticism because that would mean either stiffening the travel ban to unconstitutional proportions or ending it outright. They don’t have the courage or political capital to do the former and completely lack the intelligent foresight to do the latter.

An apt example is the Junior United States Senator from Florida (who knows just as much about Cuba as anyone else who has never been there) Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio recently spoon fed some tired rhetoric to a lobby group about how American travelers to Cuba treat the country as a “zoo”.

Obviously aside from knowing nothing about Cuba outside of Miami hearsay and gossip, Senator Rubio also knows nothing about American tourists. So let me tell Senator Rubio what most of us Americans know about ourselves: we, as Americans, pretty much treat everywhere we travel to like a zoo. (I encourage any doubters to watch the movie National Lampoon’s European Vacation.)

We even treat local tourism, within the United States, like a zoo. Look at Senator Rubio’s beloved Miami; whose tourist fueled party culture, fleeting decadence, silicon beauties, and millions of people stuck in a sad cultural limbo are as worthy as comparison to an animal prison as any Communist Caribbean island.

Few people in Cuba want to talk about prostitution. I’ve been here for three years and I have yet to see any type of campaign against prostitution or sex tourism. Denial that prostitution is rampant in the tourist sector is an outright lie. Anyone who disagrees is invited to walk down Obispo Street with me (this is a serious offer).

Instead of making predictable observations about American travel attitudes I think Senator Rubio would have been better off having a discussion on how the United States could do something to prevent child rape tourism to Cuba.  Because as it stands we are probably facilitating more than we are prosecuting.

Illegal travel to Cuba under the current United States travel ban usually involves passing through Mexico first, followed by the final leg to Cuba. Upon arrival in Cuba the Cuban Passport Control does not stamp United States passports. Instead they stamp a piece of paper inside of the passport.

Without a passport stamp the traveler is left with plausible deniability that they never traveled to Cuba. And with Cuban-American relations kept dismal by petty disputes perpetuated by feuding octogenarian neighbors there is no reason to expect Cuban cooperation in a United States investigation into crimes committed by a U.S. Citizen in Cuba.

So the situation, made possible by both Cuban and United States policies, is that a pedophile can travel to Cuba from the United States knowing that their home country will not be able to prosecute the crime.

In a problem this grave both Cuba and the United States share blame. And while I would like to see both countries take a much more hard-line approach to child rape tourism that involves civil society; as a United States citizen I’m going to appeal to my homeland.

As a country we need to decide if we are going to continue letting our differences with the Cuban government set the limits to the actions we will take to do what is right. If we know that people can use the travel ban to fly under the radar and rape children with little to no fear of getting caught shouldn’t we talk about ways to prevent that, regardless of what the Cubans are doing?

I think that legalizing all travel to Cuba, with the understanding that Cubans would stamp all United States passports and cooperate with United States law surrounding sex tourism, would help make child rape tourism to Cuba feasibly prosecutable as a federal crime under the PROTECT Act of April 2003. I hope other people will offer their thoughts, opinions or original ideas.


Graham

Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

57 thoughts on “Prostitution in Cuba: Denied at Home, Enabled from Abroad

  • Have any power in the World who can stop OLD trade in the society?

  • i was in cuba for 13 days 2 months ago. The police in Varadero and the police made me a extra 22 us dollors after i stayed up on the street one night after finding out debit cards not work in cuba. I tryed to complain after a taxi driver in a yellow stole about $250.00 cd The police would not write up a report. I went the cubian Consolute in toronto has not got back to from havana despite me going there 5 time to make complaint about the police. The cuban people in the country side are more afraid of the police than the trolls. I seen the police take $10 bride for 15 year girl having sex with a much older man. stephen 5193578686

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