A few weeks before the Pope's January visit, George Walden arrived in Cuba to find that prostitution seems to be the only part of the country's economy which functions. Is Cuba heading for a grand finale?by George Walden / January 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
Just as there was no alcoholism in the Soviet Union, so there are no prostitutes in Cuba. The fiction is essential: recognise the human truth of any totalitarian country and the regime is done for. The truth in Cuba is that sex is the only economy left: prostitution has reached the point where it appears that one half of society is selling itself to the other. Women line the streets of Havana-especially the road to the once swanky Miramar district-cheek by jowl with the police. There is little to fear from authority: something which does not exist cannot be arrested. The police -underpaid country boys-look morose. Havana itself is semi-ruined. The few cars on the roads look like relics from a 1950s crash yard. The hookers, many of them young and beautiful, look terrific.
Castro may still be in power, but the ladies of Havana have taken over the streets. While El Comandante stays out of sight, the hookers parade like spandex-panted queens of Sheba. A power unto themselves in their regal gilt and glitter, they scorn the respectable conventions of their trade. They do not restrict themselves to the usual hours; they are there night and day. Nor do they hesitate to approach men accompanied by women-as if selling you flowers for your wife, or spare tickets for the theatre. It is strange how quickly you fall in with the light, amoral mood. You feel no affront, no inclination to frown and turn away. You do not think, let alone say: “I know that you’ve been driven to this; that the average wage is the equivalent of $20 a month, that the peso is a souvenir currency, that there is no decent food or medicine for the kids. But there must be something else you could do?” “Like what?” they might say. Looking at Cuba’s shattered society, you would be stumped for a reply.
This gaudy bartering of flesh, this carnival of prostitution, takes your moral breath away. After all, the carnival is laid on, in part, for you. After you have been genially accosted a dozen times in a day you feel that you should make your excuses for not joining in: “Look, no offence. You’re a striking woman, imaginatively turned out, and I appreciate your offer. It’s just that my wife here might not be keen for me to have sex with you, even if-as you imply-she…