Irina Pino

Tourists and Cubans in the Plaza Vieja in Old Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — In the 1980s, when I lived in Vedado, I met a number of prostitutes. Pepe, a gay friend of mine, would take me to their homes so I could trade items of clothing with them, which was a common practice at the time. If you didn’t like a particular garment you had, you could trade it for one or more pieces of clothing, in dependence of their value or brand.

During those exchanges, I was offered a glimpse at the world of these young working girls. They had no pimp who controlled them or found customers for them, they would head to out alone to hunt tourists. At the time, possessing dollars was illegal, so they had to be very careful while approaching foreigners. They used to sit at hotel lobbies with a discrete touch of elegance: some makeup, a nearly natural look, dresses and purses that combined with their shoes and French perfume. They would also go to the beach near the Mar Azul hotel, or the beach in Miramar, and try to hook up there.

They all spoke some English, having learned a number of basic conversational phrases. Karla, the blond one, spoke the language of love fluently, as she had studied at the French Alliance three years.

They shared an interest in buying clothing, staying at beach houses, frequenting discos and eating at restaurants. They just wanted to have a good time, to have an endless vacation. Olga, the oldest in the group, married a wealthy Swede who fell in love with her. The man got tired of sending her letters of invitation. She was afraid of the unknown and didn’t want to travel. He finally had enough and divorced her.

The others mocked her because of that decision. She later regretted having thrown away that opportunity. Aby, however, who wasn’t as lucky hooking up, got married and moved to Spain.

Most of the girls came from dysfunctional families. Some had had no mother and others no father. Many of them were smart. Marta wrote stories and Sandra loved Chopin. They didn’t have many existential conflits. Whatvever they earned, they shared with their families and Cuban boyfriends. Whatever they got their hands on was a kind of booty. They wouldn’t set a price for their services, they would take what the tourist offered them. Sometimes, they would only keep whatever they left behind: cosmetics, clothing, backpacks. Nothing was worthless to them. Everything was of value and could be resold.

When foreigners didn’t speak Spanish, they would laugh in their faces and call them “shitheads” right in front of them.

Some were detained by the police and had official warning applied to them. However, they would always leave the station unscathed, saying they had become friends with the cops.

I don’t know what’s become of them. I saw Olga years ago. She was working as a clerk at the Carlos III commercial center. We had a brief conversation. She never had children, but she was doing well with her partner. I didn’t want to bring up her past adventures.


Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

5 thoughts on “The Prostitutes I Met in Cuba

  • One way or another, you are paying pal.

  • Irana: I am confused. You refer to having met some prostitutes back in the Special Period (past tense) and “getting some glimpse into their world”.

    I know you live in Miramar now, but don’t you know any prostitutes today? Don’t you have more than a “glimpse”? I used to live quite often in Centro Habana and have some of them as neighbors and friends. I now live part time in a small town in Holguin province where I am the only foreigner but know several girls in town who will make periodic trips to Holguin city to earn some money. As I do not impose my own values regarding sex on others, I just consider them normal people who work in the tourist industry.

    I do appreciate you using the term “prostitute” instead of calling them “jineteras” as in the female form of jinetero, a much less ethical profession.

  • Norvell… get married to a woman in Canada and tell me that you are not paying… She has a legal license to take everything that you own… I have met these girls Irina talks of… and yes it was just as friends… and many were excellent tour guides as well… Plus I had a woman in Canada and I did not cheat on her… Yet that same woman almost cost me my house and cleaned out my bank account when she met someone else… Yes indeed sad to behold… Though thankfully I hear that karma has worked out for her…

  • Men who pay for sex are sad to behold.

  • Your posts remind me of the world of Reinaldo Arenas. Maybe you should write a book..?

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