Yenisel Rodriguez Perez
HAVANA TIMES — When the Cuban government began promoting the tourism industry in the 1990s, it was sex tourism that jump-started that initiative.
Twelve years into the 21st century, they have managed to transition to other more conventional forms of tourism. Eco tourism, family tourism and luxury tourism are gradually coming to occupy prominent places in the industry.
Some people believe the success of these alternative approaches over sex tourism responds to the government’s refusal to legalize prostitution in Cuba. But such a statement might seem pretty naïve.
How many things are banned in this country for us to be surprised by the illegal status of the oldest of all trades? But with this being the case, the comment about other approaches makes a lot of sense.
In informal conversations with housekeepers in hotels, I learned that many tourists travel to Cuba for the sole purpose of having sex with male or female Cubans. About a third of the guests who stay at the hotels where these maids work are single men traveling with groups of friends.
They don’t come with a lot of luggage, nor are they are interested in nature or Cuban society. The lack of interest in these other themes becomes clearer when they have their first opportunity.
The international impact generated by the boom in sex tourism in Cuba in the 1990s had a connotation that was more political than economic.
Today, when the authoritarian bureaucracy that governs the country is challenged by issues of human rights and respect for freedom of thought, the interest of the international media in sex tourism in Cuba is no different from what takes place with any other Caribbean island.
It is no longer raised exclusively to undermine the Cuban government.
Nonetheless, sex tourism continues to demonstrate the relevance of what’s foreign in the Cuban imagination. This is an issue that would show up on the X-rays of many social, political and economic realities as being as explosive as those that “shocked” the international public in the ‘90s.
If today there still survives in anonymity what was previously debated, this is because sex tourism in Cuba is being instituted as a legitimate economic institution.
This is why I was not surprised that the maids who I interviewed were calling for the legalization of prostitution in Cuba. In the near future, we could wind up seeing such an appeal receiving political momentum in the offices of the Ministry of Tourism.