Castro’s daughter favors bold legislative weapon to combat prostitution
— punish the client
BY ABEL FERNÁNDEZ
The daughter of Cuba’s most powerful man is publicly discussing —
perhaps in search of academic support before taking her idea to the
legislature — a bold proposal to combat prostitution: penalize the
clients who pay for sexual services.
“We have to act. We can’t simply say that we are against sexual
exploitation as a form of sexual work. We cannot say that we want to
protect our children and adolescents from sexual exploitation. It’s not
just wanting it, but breaking our heads to find a way to do it,” Mariela
Castro said recently on the nationally televised Cuban program Mesa
Redonda, which discussed the International Symposium on Gender Violence,
Prostitution, Sexual Tourism and Human Trafficking held earlier this
year in Havana.
Castro, daughter of Cuban ruler Raúl Castro, also serves as director of
the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX by its Spanish
acronym) and is a member of the National Assembly of People’s Power.
During the TV broadcast, she spoke about measures adopted by other
countries to battle prostitution, including going after the clients, a
strategy practiced by Sweden since 1999 and more recently adopted by France.
But in Cuba, where prostitution is not officially illegal, many experts
agree that the island is a long way from implementing laws that punish
sex seekers because it would be inconsistent with the idiosyncrasies of
a macho society and the socio-economic reality of the island.
In the short term, some say, it is more likely that the issue continues
to be discussed in academic circles or, as Castro herself said in the TV
program, maturing until it gets “from yearning to implementation” of
measures to bring prostitution to a halt.
During the symposium, Castro also discussed other measures, such as
those implemented by the Netherlands and Belgium, where prostitution has
been legalized as a form of work. But she said she favored the Sweden
approach for Cuba because “becoming a sexual commodity takes away
people’s rights,” according to a report by the Inter Press Service.
CENESEX did not respond to questions from el Nuevo Herald about the
alleged proposal and said press queries must go through the Cuban
Embassy in Washington. The Embassy did not respond to emails from el
Amir Valle, author of the book, Habana Babilonia or Prostitutes in Cuba,
said that since 1993, when he began his five-year research, experts
already had been touting the idea of penalizing the client without
taking into account that solutions are only implemented when the
government recognizes there is a problem.
“The Cuban government, even though it has all the information and field
studies at its disposal to position itself, has never really accepted
the social reach of the phenomenon,” Valle said, adding that the
government also does not recognize the proliferation of prostitution in
its various manifestations — “jineterismo” directed at tourism, the
masculine or transsexual prostitution or the increasing national
In this sense, the symposium could be considered a step forward, as the
discussions covered male sex workers and some even raised their voices
about the censorship on the subject in academia and the complexity of
addressing the issue of prostitution “because of moral prejudices and
In an interview with Inter Press Service, Cuban researcher Rosa
Campoalegre praised the “academic and civic audacity of the symposium”
because it allowed for a healthy debate and controversial viewpoints.
Reached by phone at her home in Havana, Campoalegre declined to answer
questions from el Nuevo Herald.
The symposium and subsequent Mesa Redonda program also brought up the
question on whether prostitution in Cuba is legal or not, concluding
that the person who practices prostitution is not committing a crime
under Cuban law. However, there is legislation against pimps, sexual
exploitation of minors and pornography.
Valle said that although prostitution is not directly condemned,
legislation does label it as a “dangerous” act because of its
Punishments, Valle said, include heavy fines against those who engage in
prostitution in the province where they are from. Those caught outside
their native provinces are sent home. In the late 1990s and early 21st
century, prostitutes were placed in detention centers where they were
“reformed.” Those centers closed between 2002 and 2003, Valle said.
Ted Henken, a sociologist, author and professor at Baruch College,
believes that Cuban society, which he defines as “machista-leninista,”
is not ready to go after clients who pay for sex.
“Prostitution in Cuba is part of tourism,” said Henken, adding that
although authorities have taken action to clear the streets of the
trade, “it is just better hidden and those interested know how to find it.”
Although prostitution always existed in Cuba, the 1959 Revolution
prohibited businesses that involved sex work. But after the collapse of
the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba lost its main economic
benefactor and a crisis hit the island hard, forcing it to open up to
international tourism, which resulted in the proliferation of
prostitution as a means of survival.
Alberto Roque, a well-known activist for LGBTQ rights on the island,
said that the discussion to penalize the client is still at an academic
level, but that “the institutions and civil society can influence” the
debate so that the proposal reaches the legislature.
Roque, who is also a doctor and a member of the Cuban Communist Party,
supports CENESEX’s proposal to penalize the client, but he told el Nuevo
Herald that it is not enough to pass a law while the population
continues to view prostitutes as individuals with a “negative” value.
“I do not think the people are ready,” Roque said.
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Source: Cuba explores penalizing the clients to fight prostitution |
Miami Herald –