“THEY CANNOT TAKE AWAY OUR SELF RESPECT IF WE DO NOT GIVE IT TO THEM”. GANDHI.
By Gelasia Marquez, PhD
During the past years everyone is very careful when writing an article or a book, or when delivering a presentation, or is part of a convention, or teaching in a class, even when have an interchange of ideas or comments in an informal social gathering. It is because we, consciously or not, have accepted the golden rule of being “politically correct” in our evaluations, writings, comments, and social expressions.
The term “politically correct” originated as something like a joke, literally in a comic strip, but we still tend to think of it as a serious issue (Bill Lind, February 5, 2000). The Political correctness term and philosophy began in the 1980s and the term denotes a conscious effort so our language, ideas, policies, and behaviors scrutinizes the thoughts and the words used so they cannot be called as offensive, or insensitive, or racist, or sexist, or homophobic, and so on.
Thus, when I came back from my natal country, Cuba, I openly shared some of my experiences, gave names and adjectives to certain situations, and intended analyze the reality that I experience during fourteen days. Among the reactions received, some friends advised me to be carful with what I could write and with what and where I said my comments because it could be taken as offensive and insensitive by segments of my fellow Cubans –both inside and outside the island.
These guidance were justified on grounds of ‘having common sense” (are there other topics to talk, to discuss, to write from your visit to Cuba?), or were criticize as a moralist position (who are you to judge without knowing the why, the how, and the what). I guess that they were well intentioned advices because they probably are afraid of the social consequences of an open discussion on the topic , or of making “those” specific facts known. However, at the end, I conclude that it is possible to defend and to object my observations and comments, but pretending what happened is not happening is outside the range of “my” reasonable discourse. Consequently, I decided to write a few reflections about the sex tourism and the prostitution of our young ladies in Cuba. This piece of writing comes with a mixture of moral indignation, with the give-and-take of rational arguments about the political process we have suffered during the past half a century years, with intense emotion and with strong feelings.
During my last trip to Cuba I watched European and American old men tourists with very young native white, black or “mulata” girls engage in explicit sexual and loving relationships. I not only found them going in and out of the hotel, but at its pool at the bar, at the lunch area, riding the hotel elevators. Those girls presented very well dressed, with shoes, bags, jewelry very different than those other Cuban girls can afford. They act “differently”, they walked and had a “sense of security” that came from the feeling of being the privileged girls in the circle of under privileged teenagers of their neighborhoods, towns, or nation.
Wikipedia describes Prostitution as the act or practice of providing sexual services to another person in return for payment. We grew up understanding prostitution as an inappropriate behavior and with the belief that it degrades women and that prostitution causes degeneration of values and attitudes, consequently prostitution always raises a moral concern for me and for my generation.
Prostitution is one of the branches of the sex industry. The legal status of prostitution varies from country to country, from being a punishable crime to a regulated profession. However, today the writings on human trafficking, are describing prostitution as the largest slave trade in history.
William W. Sanger traces the origin of prostitution as early as the 18th century B.C., in the ancient society of Mesopotamia where the Code of Hammurabi recognized the need to protect women’s property rights and addressed inheritance rights of women, including female prostitutes. Prostitution was common in ancient Israel, despite being tacitly forbidden by Jewish Law.
On the other hand, Cuba has long been a popular attraction for tourists. Data provided by review of records related to tourism in Cuba stated that between 1915 and 1930, Havana hosted Such tourism became Cuba’s third largest source of foreign currency, behind the two dominant industries of sugar and tobacco.
A combination of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the World War II severely dampened Cuba’s tourist industry, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that numbers began to return to the island in any significant force. A In 1949, the UN General Assembly adopted a convention stating that “prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person” requiring all signing parties to punish pimps and brothel owners and operators and to abolish all special treatment or registration of prostitutes. As of January 2009, the convention was ratified by 95 member nations including France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and not ratified by another 97 member nations including Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.
During the recovery phase was the Havana Conference of 1946. This was an historic meeting of United States Mafia and Cosa Nostra leaders in Havana, Cuba. Supposedly arranged by Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the conference was held to discuss important mob policies, rules, and business interests. The Conference was attended by delegations representing crime families throughout the United States and was held during the week of December 22, 1946 at the Hotel Nacional. It s easy to conclude that a byproduct of this visit of members of the organized crime to Cuba created the necessary conditions for a continuous influence of them in the leisure and tourist industries, Despite this or as some historians stated as a result of ot , Cuban’ tourist numbers grew steadily at a rate of 8% a year and Havana became known as “the Latin Las Vegas“.
Immediately upon becoming President of Cuba after the Cuban revolution of 1959, Manuel Urrutia ordered the closing of many bars and gambling halls associated with prostitution and the drug trade, with the purpose of ending Cuba’s image as a hedonistic escape. A new National Institute of the Tourism Industry (INTUR), was established to encourage more tourism; taking over hotels, clubs, and beaches with the purpose of making them available to the general public at low rates.
In January 1961, as relations between the nations deteriorated, tourism travel to Cuba was declared by the U.S. State Department to be contrary to U.S. foreign policy and against the national interest. Tourism that year dropped to a record low of a mere 4180, forcing a dramatic downsizing of Cuba’s tourist plans.
Visitors to Cuba during the 1960s, 70s and 80s were comparatively rare, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. For thirty years the Soviets were practically the only trading partner of Cuba,. The Soviet Union sheltered Cuba’s sugar industry with large subsidies for 30 years. The lack of economic diversification during this period, and the sudden loss of key markets sent the country into a deep economic depression known in Cuba as the Special Period. The crisis precipitated an urgent need to find new avenues of national income.
A new Ministry of Tourism was created in 1994, and the Cuban state invested heavily in tourist facilities. Between 1990 and 2000, more than $3.5 billion was invested in the tourist industry. The number of rooms available to international tourists grew from 12,000 to 35,000, and the country received a total of 10 million visitors over that period. By 1995 the industry had surpassed sugar as Cuba’s chief earner.
Today, travelers from around the world visit Cuba, especially Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France and Mexico. According to TIME Magazine (May 11, 2007), 20,000 to 30,000 Americans illegally travel to Cuba every year. Americans usually reach Cuba via flights from Toronto, Montreal or Cancun.
Soon the term sex tourism began to be associated with the tourism in Cuba. Films, novels, short stories, and news began to describe a new and parallel avenue to get an income, an extra income, or a way to escape the economic vicissitudes Cubans were experiencing.
Sex tourism is an increasingly controversial subject. Although tourism and sex have always been linked, the sex tourism industry has exploded in the past decade. Sex tourism occurs all over the world, but it is most pervasive in third world countries where poor women turn to prostitution for survival (Oppermann, 1998). Moreover, Office on Drugs and Crime, 79% of human trafficking is sexual exploitation.
Sex tourism exists in Cuba. Thousands of men travel to Cuba to have sex with Cubans. Travel agents flaunt pictures of scantily clad women on white sand beaches. In 1990, Playboy did a photo shoot of Cuban women on the famous beach resort, Varadero. In 1995, the Italian magazine Viaggiare claimed that Cuba was the “paradise of sex tourism”. Castro appears to be contributing to prostitution and the increase in prostitution tourism by his own tolerance. He remarked that Cuban women are prostitutes not because they needed to be but rather because they liked to make love, and that they are the most educated and the healthiest prostitutes on the market. (Jeszs Zzqiga, “Cuba: The Thailand of the Caribbean,” Independent Journalists’ Cooperative, 18 June 1998)
Tracey Eaton of The Dallas Morning News (11/15/2003) wrote “‘Cuba is no longer one of the world’s top destinations for sex tourism after five years of relentless police crackdowns, travel experts say. But another trend has emerged: More travelers are using the Internet to find prostitutes in Cuba. And rights advocates say that computer-assisted sex tourism is troubling because it makes it easier for men to sexually exploit Cuban women and teenagers”.
“The online sex trade is a multibillion-dollar industry that often targets the Third World and treats women and teenagers as “sexual commodities,” said Donna Hughes, a University of Rhode Island professor and women’s rights advocate, and author of a report titled “Pimps and Predators on the Internet – Globalizing Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children.”
“Sex tourists frequently log on to adult travel Internet sites and rate the Cuban prostitutes they find, remarking on everything from hair and skin color to mood, sexual attributes and performance. Some also take nude or semi-nude photos of the women and post them on the Internet. Some of these photos are shot without permission or captured by hidden camera. Others are casual snapshots, but the women have no idea that these intimate pictures will be available on the Internet for years to come, Ms. Hughes and other rights advocates say”.
Also, James C. McKinley Jr. in The New York Times (12/28/2004) wrote an analysis of the increase of prostitution in Cuba. As per his research “Cuba has become something of an anomaly in Latin America: a destination for sex tourists where AIDS has yet to become an uncontrollable pandemic.” In addition, the low levels of the virus in Cuba and the inexpensive price of sex compared with other places have made the island a destination for male tourists seeking women.
Author interviewed several female prostitutes. They blamed the brutal economic conditions in Cuba under the U.S. embargo, where monthly state salaries do not buy enough food for a month, as the reason that had pushed them into the business – business that help them to count on $50 to $75 from Europeans, plus meals, drinks and gifts. In addition, prostitutes also say “they are looking to link up with someone who can take them out of Cuba, or provide them with a steady income”.
Charles Trumbull (2001) in his study on Prostitution and Sex Tourism in Cuba stated these three main reasons that Cuban women turn to prostitution. The first and main reason is economic necessity. Many women turn to prostitution because they see no other way to survive. Once they turn to prostitution, they become trapped because they are away from home and have no other way to pay for their living expenses.
The second reason that women go into prostitution is so they can finance their studies or work in a chosen profession. Salaries are extremely low in Cuba. The average salary is around 250 pesos ($12) per month, and even a doctor or lawyer would not make more than 600 pesos (Granma, December 23, 2000). Even highly educated Cuban workers must find an alternative or additional source of income. In many families, one of the professional workers will quit his/ her job in order to obtain a self-employed license. This self-employment often times provides enough income for the entire family. Other professionals quit their state jobs to work in the tourism sector as taxi drivers, waiters, bartenders, or doormen. Some professionals and students turn to prostitution instead. Professional women normally engage in prostitution only part time, as a way to supplement their income. They do not work the streets every night, and sometimes will only accept clients a couple times a month.
The third reason for going into prostitution is that some prostitutes see prostitution as a means to live a better life. Prostitution allows them to go to clubs, eat at good restaurants, and buy nice clothes.
As many other professionals in the field I cannot limit myself to describe the current situation, I too wanted to find other responses that the ones I listed above. But, every time I tried to analyze it I have recurrent thoughts on the topic –they were and are my learned knowledge about values, principles and essential needs.
Stephen R. Covey (1990) stated that “each one of us has many, many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories: maps of the way things are or realities, and maps of the way things should be or values. We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. We seldom question their accuracy; we’re usually even unaware that we have them. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be”.
Similarly, Covey described the principles as lighthouses. They are natural laws that cannot be broken. Moreover, he also cited Cecil B. deMille when he described the principles contained in his movie The Ten Commandments: “”it is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law”. We learned those principles as part of our process of socialization and enculturation. They become part of our consciousness, they are self-evident . Principles are not values. Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value. Thus, when we value correct principles, we achieve truth –it is, we know the things as they are.
By my own experience, I know that more than fifty years ago we grew up conforming our consciousness with the principle of fairness, out of which our whole concept of equity and justice is developed. We worked hard to learn to respect our own integrity and honesty as important rules to judge ourselves and others, we really believe in human dignity and this principle become the solid rock or foundation of all the other principles.
Thus, what had happened during the past fifty two years in Cuban homes, schools, and society in general? How and where took place the cognitive and emotional formation and conformation of Cuban children and youth? The only response that comes to my mind is: the above elements -cognitive and emotional formation and conformation of values and principles- do not occur in a vacuum but in every human being while he/she is working in achieving the satisfaction of its innate e inalienable needs. Since our birth and throughout the processes of education and of socialization we learn to pay attention to the largest and most fundamental levels of needs and to satisfy them so we can then dedicate ourselves to the top of all needs, the need for self-actualization.
Abraham Maslow (1954) elaborated a very comprehensive theory to explain the human motivation an behavior in life as a response to its innate and needs needs. He placed the most fundamental and basic four “deficiency needs” at the bottom of a pyramid and named them as: esteem, friendship and love, security, and physical needs. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will focus his motivation upon the secondary or higher level needs.
For the purpose of this article I will briefly describe the deficiency needs: physiological needs. They are literally esential requirements for human survival. If these requirements are not met, the human body simply cannot continue to function. Air, water, and food are metabolic requirements for survival in all animals, including humans. Clothing and shelter provide necessary protection from the elements. Finally, the sexual instinct which Maslow linked to the maintenance of the birth rate adequate to survival of the species.
With their physical needs relatively satisfied, the individual’s safety needs take precedence and dominate behavior. Safety and Security needs include: Personal security, Financial security, Health and well-being, and Safety net against accidents/illness and their adverse impacts. In the absence of a “safe environment and human development adequate conditions” which could be due to terrorist attack, war, natural disaster, or, in cases of family and social violence, childhood abuse, and so on– people experience post-traumatic stress disorder and trans-generational trauma transfer.
After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third group of human needs are social and involve feelings of belongingness to its socio-cultural environments. Humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, whether it comes from a large social group or from small social connections (family members, intimate partners, mentors, close colleagues, confidants). In the absence of these elements, many people become susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression.
All humans have a need to be respected and to have self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem presents the normal human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People need to engage themselves to gain recognition and have an activity or activities that give the person a sense of contribution, to feel self-valued.
Finally, as Maslow wrote it, “What a man can be, he must be.” As mentioned before, in order to reach a clear understanding of this level of self-actualization, one must first not only achieve the previous needs, physiological, safety, love, and esteem, but master these needs.
Recently, Freedom House conducted in-depth interviews with 120 people in six provinces from December 2010 to January 2011. Since this is the most recent study that I know I have added the analysis of these interviews with the purpose to give light to the above discussion and also, to briefly explore Cubans’ values and beliefs.
As in previous Freedom House studies, Cubans across all regions and sectors of society remain largely preoccupied by their economic situation, with most struggling to make ends meet. When asked about their economic situation, many respondents replied that things were “apretado,” or tight. Many of those interviewed had not been able to earn a living in the areas in which they had studied and had either taken on a second job, often as a tour guide or selling handicrafts in street markets, or changed occupations entirely. Only few Cubans did say their monthly income was sufficient.
Economic concerns also influence many Cubans’ decisions to start a family. Many younger respondents indicated they would like to start a family but did not have the money to afford a house of their own, let alone raise a child. Purchasing goods through the black market, or “mercado negro,” is often the only way Cubans can find basic supplies.
In addition to economic and family concerns, several respondents mentioned a recent rise in violent crime, as opposed to petty thefts, although Cuba prides itself on low rates of violence. Similar to past Freedom House studies, many complained about the dilapidated state of transportation in the country and pointed to corollary issues that this creates. “The ones who suffer most are those who live in the countryside, because many of them are marginalized from health care due to distance.
When asked what made them most happy, almost half the respondents replied their family, followed by a quarter who indicated their profession. Free education, health care, and low crime rates were more frequently mentioned as the main source of happiness in previous Freedom House studies, possibly pointing to shifting attitudes toward these services. Additionally, despite the numerous problems encountered in daily life, the majority of respondents said they were relatively happy.
Keeping with data from previous Freedom House studies, Cuban youth pointed to the economy as their principal concern and greatest point of unhappiness. Almost all respondents spoke of the high cost of basic goods and low salaries that do not cover daily needs or allow for savings, traveling, or starting a family. The majority of those interviewed believed that the situation in Cuba is either stuck or regressing, and many were unable to envision how the economic reforms would affect them or their families. As in past Freedom House studies, youth, particularly in Havana, remained unwilling or unable to focus on or think about the future. The majority of respondents who were unable to envision the impact of the reforms were from the capital city.
Young Cubans desire economic stability above everything, followed by freedom of expression. Far more prominent are young people who have simply lost hope that conditions in Cuba will improve and see no future in remaining in Cuba. Others were frustrated by their inability to make decisions to determine their own future.
Just over half of young Cubans indicated that God was important or very important to them, although few indicated that religious beliefs were an important value to pass on to children. Instead, respondents said the most important values to teach children were independence, tolerance and respect, obedience, and altruism. Independence in particular was valued far more by young respondents, suggesting a potential generational shift in values.
In conclusion, a few questions remains: Is the inability of the Cuban Government to provide opportunities for the accomplishment of the most essential needs of Cubans holding them back to achieve their self-realization as human beings? Are Cuban been pushed down to live at the lowest level of satisfaction?