My grandmother once told me if I would have stayed in Cuba through my adolescence, I’d be a prostitute today. A jinetera, as they’re called by fellow Cubans. Of course, she told me, I would still have my college education, plus a job that pays around 20 dollars a month.
When I was 4, I came to live to Mexico with my mom and dad. They left Cuba in order to study their doctorates, and then made a life here. Today I’m 22 and I return to Cuba every chance I get. Every person that I’ve met here asks me about my opinion on the Cuban government. It’s a very complicated question, as with every other country in the world, there’s the good, the bad and the ugly.
For example: the good, free healthcare and education for every citizen; the bad, the income of money doesn’t cover basic necessities; the ugly, young men and women –even with high education- sell their bodies to tourists in order to get by. With a single tourist, a prostitute will make the same amount of money as in a month working a regular job.
Here’s the thing about prostitution in a different economic system -tropical socialism-, there is enough government aid so that one can live without paying the amounts of money that you would pay with capitalism. However, that aid doesn’t cover as much as it did in the 60’s and 70’s. Once the Soviet Union fell, Cuba had one of the biggest economic crisis of the 20th century. The 90’s are known as the Special Period, a time in which it was hard, if not impossible, to get your hands on a soap, detergent, toothpaste, cooking, oil, etc.
Today, things are a little better, but not that much. The government aids have diminished a salary that doesn’t cover what it used to. Plus, there are two currencies: the national peso, in which everyone gets paid and the chavito or CUC, which tourist use. Cubans can also use the chavitos in special shops called shoppings. One chavito is worth around the same as a dollar, you need 24 cuban pesos to buy one.
Since a normal salary doesn’t cover a family’s monthly intake, most Cubans survive under two basis: receiving money from their families abroad, or working illegally, be it selling cigars and rum in the black market, or be it prostitution.
Jineteras usually work with tourists alone, not with Cubans. A lot of them have family, husband and children, others are young single women. Some are happy being invited places and receiving gifts from the foreigners, most will require the money beforehand. There are even cases, lots of them actually, of jineteras getting married to a client and leaving the country.
And everyone knows this and everyone condones this. The government doesn’t do a thing about it. And society doesn’t know how to react to it. The Revolution came and gave women sexual empowerment and rights over their bodies. So, is being a jinetera a decision of sexual liberation? Or is it, what seems to be the only way of survival?
Fidel Castro once said that we have the most cultured prostitutes in the world, is that really a thing to be proud of?
*This is the first post of our new permanent blogger Sofía Sanchez, a young jounalist born in Cuba and based in Mexico City. We invite you to find her future posts on her column “De mi tierra bella”.