Prostitution is not thriving in Cuba

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your article might put some tourists to Cuba in jeopardy. Based on my visits to Habana, and my professional interest in prostitution and illicit drug use (I conducted street ethnographic research on both for many years in the U.S.), I can tell you that unless there has been a major policy switch in Cuba since my last visit three years ago, street prostitution, robberies, and drug use are very infrequent. I would not call any of them “thriving.”

Cuba is a dictatorship, and like some others, it has less street crime than do many democracies. Both victimless crimes — prostitution and illicit drug consumption — are punished severely. An example on the drug side is that until only a few years ago, Cuba would not allow meetings of Narcotics Anonymous. The police shut down the first meeting held in La Habana, telling the participants to go home since there was no drug use in Cuba. In contrast, there are well over a hundred AA groups, each meeting several times a week. Today, there is one N.A. group in La Habana, and the members have been told they can meet only as long as they do not put a sign outside the meeting place.

Based on my experience, the Cuban government is likely to make a few test cases of tourists who engage in visible crime, to maintain their existing puritanical standards. This does not mean prostitution doesn’t exist there. It means only that it is certainly not a thriving industry, and carries high risks for arrest and incarceration.

There is a general practice of the media (including your source for this article) to glamorize prostitution tourism by claiming it is more prevalent, including here in Costa Rica. Yes, prostitution tourism exists here, but in a more orderly and less dangerous fashion than it does in a few dozen U.S. cities. (Compare, if you will, the area around Parque Morazán to Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street in New York City, as only one example).

John French
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