Young Men for Hire in Havana

Ernesto Perez Chang

Photo: Kevin Slack

HAVANA TIMES — The afternoon settles in Havana and young people who sell their bodies begin to throng on the sidewalk in front of the Payret cinema. The young men and women sell themselves for nearly nothing. An hour or an entire night of pleasure, or all the time needed to satisfy the lustful cravings of those who pay.

As night falls, the crowd begins to grow and the competition becomes more intense. When a group of tourists nears, the young men and women prepare for battle: they straighten out their clothes, take out cigarettes, ask for a light, smile, make suggestive gestures. They are willing to do whatever is asked of them.

Cubans are charged a little less than yumas (foreigners), but these working kids will bargain with anyone if they’ve gone many days without taking in enough. They have to eat and pay the rent, after all. They have to buy the documents they need to stay in Havana for at least six months and bribe the police so they won’t detain them for harassing tourists.

They also have to pay to be there, making a buck. If they don’t, they are sent back to their provinces of origin in the interior, and there isn’t much they can do there, at least nothing to feed their hopes that they will one day be able to stop selling their bodies.

In contrast to La Rampa, located in the very heart of Vedado, or the more popular discos in Miramar, the Payret and Parque Central sidewalks are the areas where Havana’s cheapest prostitutes work.

Just about everyone passes through those two areas: tourists who have their pictures taken in front of the Capitolio, where the Cuban Senate once convened, common Cubans who wait for hours for a bus to take them home after a day at work (which was just as exhausting as the wait), others who have a bit more money and go into and come out of stores or line up at the entrance of a luxury restaurant.

The crowd looks fairly uniform, but it is in fact made up of well-defined groups of people: those who have, those who have little and those who hope to get lucky that afternoon or late into the night.

Photo: Ernesto Perez Chang

To sell one’s body near the Payret cinema, one need not be as sophisticated as the taxi-boys that abound in the vicinity of luxury hotels. With a pair of jeans and a tight-fitting shirt over a buffed-up body, one can get enough to live on, and even to support one’s family.

“It’s a job like any other,” says Daynier, a young man who tries to explain to me the difference between a male prostitute and him, who also does not accept being called a pinguero, which is what the young men of the sex trade are called in Cuba.

Daynier is twenty-six years old. He was born in Niquero, in Cuba’s eastern end. He had to support his family and couldn’t find a job that gave him enough, not even to buy food, clothing and rent a small house where he could see his children grow up. Desperate, he decided to move to the capital. Even though he found work in agriculture – skirting the law that regulates the internal movements of people in the country – he still wasn’t making enough to live on.

It was his brother – a pinguero like him – who introduced him to the “trade.” In one night, just from selling his body, he managed to earn much more than what he did working for the State the entire day. All he had to do is stand at a street corner, put himself on display and wait for someone to approach him.

There are days in which Daynier doesn’t even make a penny, but then he gets a run of good luck, especially in high tourism seasons, when he can take back home the clothes and things he was never able to buy with his previous salaries.

“Maybe one of the people who pay for an hour with me will decide to take me with them out of the country one day,” he says to me, with different words, and begins to describe to me what his life would be like somewhere else. He speaks of the future for his wife and children he dreams of.

Something like that happened to his brother. He shows me the picture of a beautiful little kid next to a brand-new car, in a distant country. He smiles. He’s dreamed of having all that a thousand times. He’s not a “male prostitute”; he’s just a “guy who works real hard to get ahead,” he tells me with a strange sense of pride that feels more like a rationalization, a childish defensive strategy.

capitolio-199x300During our conversation, other young men like him walk the streets, from one corner to the other. Some are alone, strolling across the sidewalk, going around Parque Central. Others have already found company and head towards nearby stores, where they buy expensive cigarettes, perfumes, beers, something they’ve wanted for a long time.

While they listen to the promises of their customers, they allow themselves to be touched, flirt with, seduce and please their companions, as the initial price agreed on may grow thanks to that. Perhaps they will find the exit door, the big prize, that night.

The hours go by, but the toing-and-froing continues. Young men fill all the benches at Parque Central, looking everywhere for a potential customer. They drink profusely, smoke and prepare – no one knows what’s in store for them that night.

 “They’re all after the same thing…no one comes here unless they’re looking for cheap sex,” Daynier tells me and goes quiet for a few minutes. He looks around him. He’s realized I am not a customer, that I’m just a weird guy asking him annoying questions, a curious person he won’t get anything out of by revealing these things. He’s realized I don’t want to rent him for the night.

However, he’s apparently embarrassed to tell me he has to get back to work, that it is getting late and the chances of earning some money are decreasing. He’s seen a group of tourists go by and intuits there is a chance of success there.

An old, fat man has stopped to look at him. He takes a picture of him, and then some more. Daynier smiles at him. He knows what this man, who’s walked away from his group, wants. He says goodbye to me, patting me on the shoulder. He walks somewhat hurriedly towards the fat man, takes out a cigarette and asks for a light.

22 thoughts on “Young Men for Hire in Havana

  • January 13, 2014 at 12:10 pm
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    Is this the “New Man” that Che envisioned? If it has taken only three generations of Castro-style socialism to make this “pinguero” lifestyle acceptable to the once machista-dominated Cuban culture, how many generations will it take to eradicate the practice of allegedly heterosexual men engaging in homosexual sex for pay once Cuba is free of the Castros?

    Reply
    • January 13, 2014 at 5:55 pm
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      You total hypocrite.
      With the U.S war on the economy of Cuba causing hardships that are fully intended to have this sort of effect : a war that you encourage : a war intended to return Cuba to the days when prostitution was rife throughout the island instead of confined to the corrupting tourist enclaves -of course this sort of thing is a likelihood.
      You hypocritically say that Cuba’s state economy which you ignorantly term socialism cannot work but insist on the embargo as the only way you and your capitalist buddies can make sure it barely works.
      It will put the lie to your hypocrisy if and when the U.S. calls of its war on the people of Cuba whom you despise for their sticking to a society you don’t like.
      Hypocrite.

      Reply
      • January 13, 2014 at 9:39 pm
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        Sticks and stones may break my bones, but a cogent and well grounded argument seems beyond you.

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        • January 14, 2014 at 7:29 am
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          As someone who is unable to define socialism or communism in an academic manner and only in the fashion of the uneducated, you are in no position to judge a “cogent and well-grounded argument ”
          That you support the U.S economic war on all the people of Cuba including your relatives is indicative of the depths to which you will sink in support of totalitarian forms the U.S wishes to impose upon weaker nations.
          That you are unable to see the inhumanity of your positions is something I find very sad.
          That you claim to be a Christian would be laughable were it not so sad and widespread in the general U.S population who blame the poor rather than help them as Christ taught.

          Reply
          • January 14, 2014 at 10:38 am
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            John, I am a San Francisco 49’er fanatic. Season tickets, the whole enchilada. I call my favorite team, ” the forty-niners” or sometime just the ‘Niners”. I realize they are not the real gold miners who came to California in 1849 to seek their fortune. IT IS JUST A NAME! Communist/Socialist Cuba is just a name. John is just a name. My personal religious choice is not relevant to HT discussions. Don’t be a wacko. Move on.

          • January 14, 2014 at 8:53 pm
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            Communism and socialism can hardly be compared to a sports teams name.
            But you do it anyway.
            Your analogy is lame.
            Your alleged Christianity is, like your support of the U.S war on Cuba, also a matter of hypocrisy in that Christ’s first teaching was to help the poor and not to punish them .
            He was killed for so preaching .
            You’re alive and well and playing the anti-Christ .
            That hypocrisy is quite pertinent.
            As for Christianity, you might want to avoid the You Tube video entitled “The falsity and immorality of Christianity ” a 12 minute Christopher Hitchens debate segment that fairly well points out how true the title is.
            I recommend it to all my antitheist friends but warn so-called Christians that they will be unable to watch all 12 minutes. ( and 59 seconds.)
            Religion is also pertinent to the Cuban discussions and has been ever since Cuba kicked out all the pro-fascist Spanish priests following the revolution during Franco’s rule in Spain.

          • January 28, 2014 at 4:55 am
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            You are way too uptight pal. You really need to get laid. Only then are you gonna be able to loosen up :)

        • April 28, 2017 at 6:07 pm
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          I wouldn’t say so. How is your argument cogent when you don’t take the embargo anywhere into account? Where is it grounded? In a perverse ideology, I would say.

          Reply
    • April 28, 2017 at 6:04 pm
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      How can you evaluate an experiment if the data are confounded on a continual basis by hostile interference? Take a look as well at the Cuban policy toward gay people now. Cultural prejudice may permeate public attitudes, though not as much as you may think, but the governmental attitude is quite welcoming of gays.

      Reply
  • January 13, 2014 at 11:42 pm
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    Didn’t I told ya? As a cuban this makes me extremely sad. :(

    Reply
  • January 14, 2014 at 8:06 am
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    “se veran horrores” esta escrito en alguna parte, que pena, tanta perdida de valores sera muy dificil de recuperar, tomara décadas. No le echen la culpa a los americanos, como mismo hubo revolucion en el 59, puede haber otra….. el problema es mas interno, se necesitan valientes.

    Reply
    • January 14, 2014 at 10:45 am
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      If I understood your Spanish , you seem to be saying that the hard economic conditions in Cuba are due to internal problems rather than the 54 year-old U.S war on that economy .
      In order to be objective to any degree, you have to place the bulk of the blame upon the actions of a very hostile United States.
      As a Latin American and especially a Cuban , you should be well aware that any attempt by any Latin American country in the last century to have anything other than a capitalist economy has been met by the U.S. with outright subversion, economic sabotage and invasion as was the case at Playa Giron.
      It is the explicit aim of the ongoing .U.S. war on the Cuban economy to create conditions so bad that Cubans would themselves overthrow their own revolution since another invasion by the U.S would necessitate the sort of slaughter that the U.S committed in Vietnam in order to have its way and which is something even the Cheneys in the U.S government dare not even think about.
      As Woody Guthrie said, “Some rob you with a six-gun, some rob you with a fountain pen.”

      Reply
      • January 14, 2014 at 2:09 pm
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        You will not even respect the opinion of a Spanish-speaking person (likely Cuban) who also as likely has lived her life in Cuba. Proof positive, I guess, that you know more about Cuba than Cubans.

        Reply
        • January 14, 2014 at 8:56 pm
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          As Mikhail Bakunin said :” In matters of boots, I defer to the bootmakers”
          In matters dealing with U.S. foreign policy history , I defer to very few and certainly not to anyone who does not include the U.S. embargo as the bigger part f why Cuba is having the economic problems it is and which that embargo fully intended to overhrow Cuba’s revolution.

          Reply
  • January 14, 2014 at 9:26 am
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    I happen to be reading a copy of “A History of Havana” that I got for Christmas. I just started it, but further ahead there is a part about Arthur Schlesinger’s impressions when he was there in the 50’s. !2 year-olds readily available for sex, tourists throwing coins to watch adult Cubans scramble for them. In short, a desperate country without dignity for most. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 20 years, special period years, in Havana. Often I stay at Hotel Lido, right off of Prado, so I walk past El Payret all the time. I go past Yara if I take my daughter to Copeglia (moneda nacional side). I guess I have seen some Jineteros there, but nothing shocking.. Nothing at all like you could see in Zurich or Manilla, or Cali. We are talking about the national epicenter of where this sex trade exists, and it is not even that noticeable. The more I read HT, the more I am getting the impression that it is a Radio Marti-Lite. A smarter version of black propaganda. It offers apparent balance and allows differing views, but on the whole it paints a very dark, hopeless view of Cuban society. I don’t see that there. I never have. I am an attorney. For those same 20 years I have gained intimate familiarity with the lives of thousands of working class and underclass Americans and immigrants. Going to prison, losing their children, losing their jobs, or being deported. Lives rife with alienation, hopelessness, addiction and violence. The same exists in Cuba, of course, but in my opinion, to a much lesser degree. Most of the Cuban immigrants I deal with agree with me on that.

    Reply
    • January 14, 2014 at 10:30 am
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      As an attorney, you should know that “the devil is in the details”. How many prostitutes in Manila or Zurich are college-educated engineers or architects? In Cuba, this is not uncommon. Yes, there is despair and hardship everywhere. However, in Cuba, these problems are not caused by skin color, or national origin or even whether or not you finished high school. Most of the severest problems in Cuba are a result of a regime intent on self-preservation. Losing a job anywhere and anytime can be devastating. Corporate cutbacks, shrinking budgets, or even internal corporate politics are all common if not valid reasons to be fired from you job. But losing your job because you write articles for HT is another thing altogether and the fear of that outcome is something facing Cubans unlike most people around the world. Finally, every time you held that return airline ticket to leave Cuba each time you visited over the last 20 years, your emotional filter was different and your perspective altered to the reality that Cubans face. You may very well not see much difference between “la lucha” in Cuba and what you witness in your law practice. But ask most Cubans if they would trade places with your clients. There is a difference even if you don’t see it.

      Reply
      • January 14, 2014 at 12:05 pm
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        Actually, I remember reading about a lawyer arrested for prostitution b/c she didn’t make enough to pay off her law school loans, although I agree that that is uncommon. But what’s your point ? It’s better to be an illiterate sex worker than one with a university degree ? I shake my head when I hear the excuse that people in Cuba have to sell their bodies to survive.They sell their bodies b/c they want all the gingaria of a western consumerist society, they don’t like work and probably have the sexual disposition for it. They would be pingueros no matter where they lived. The Cubans I know, and my family members who work in Holguin in agriculture would die laughing if I would suggest the sex trade as a necessary career option to insure the survival of their families. And by the way , your assertion that HT contributors (all 20 of them) could lose their jobs b/c they do so — brought to mind the time in the 90’s when I was arrested and put in lock-up by CBP in North Carolina after a return trip from Cuba. They threatened me that that could be the end of my license to practice law.

        Reply
        • January 14, 2014 at 2:04 pm
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          My point is that if you to the #1 law school in the US/Cuba, let’s say Harvard/Univ. of Havana, what are the chances that your monthly salary five years after graduation ($20K/ 20 cuc) is enough to cover basic monthly living expenses? Cuban lawyers who prostitute their bodies to survive will surprise no one. A Harvard lawyer by day, and to survive, prostitute by night is a Hollywood movie but extremely unlikely.

          Reply
          • January 18, 2016 at 6:10 pm
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            Blame that on the Embargo, guy! You only have to compare Cuba to DR to see the difference. DR+hustlers=danger, Cuba+hustlers=friendly. An educated hustler is your best security. Fidel et al. are far from perfect, even not so good. But is Nieto “good”? Was George Bush? Is Obama, when it comes to killing? So Cuba is egalitarian and educated professionals are not highly paid. But Fidel held off the US for almost 60 years. And that is good.

    • January 14, 2014 at 10:51 am
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      Thanks, Dan
      Yours is a refreshing view of relative realities.
      That said , I do have it from a number of HT sources that Fidel Castro himself is behind the sex-for-money trade in order to fill his hidden bank accounts in Panama so that he can live in comfort when he gets old, sick and has to retire and also to foment revolutions in Latin America. .
      This was necessitated when he was exposed as an international drug dealer and had to get out of THAT business.
      It’s getting so a ruthless, murderous, baby-eating dictator just can’t make a dishonest living these days.

      Reply
      • January 18, 2016 at 6:10 pm
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        Oh, such BS! Obama will retire in great wealth while 51% of the US lives below the poverty line in the wealthiest country in history.

        Reply
  • November 27, 2016 at 11:16 am
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    It seems to me Moses Patterson that their is a place in Cuba where people are imprisoned, tortured,denied legal representation, wallow for years without charge…..it’s called Guantomino Bay.

    Freedom hey…..Yankee style.

    Reply

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