Sex Tourism: The Largest Free-market in Cuba
October 15, 2012
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
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
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
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.