Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wild Flowers in Fifth Avenue.

In the mid 90’s, I was working in a Company located in Fifth Avenue, Miramar, close to Street 92. Who had visited Havana knows Miramar is one of the high and finest neighbourhoods in Cuba capital city. Crowded with embassies, diplomatic residences and well-care gardens, Miramar is one of the best residential municipalities of Havana, if not the best. Fifth Avenue run along the entire neighbourhood and is well-known by his beautiful beds of flowers. It is well-known as well for being the main route where our most important leaders are passing by, in and out Havana, to their splendid residences in Siboney or their comfortable offices in the city centre.Wild Flowers in 5th Avenue

Fifth Avenue was also well-known, in the 90’s, rather than for its beautiful bed of natural flowers for other specimen wilder and nocturnal. It was one of the most important places where any visitor could find a prostitute at night. With Malecon, 5th Avenue shares the dubious reputation for being the center of Havana night life.

Both places shares also beauty and ugliness, day and night life, flowers and shadows. Many times, when I had to stay a bit longer in my job I saw, in my way home and along its two opposite lanes, the silhouettes of women making signals to any car with the characteristic “T” on its plate, marking the well-fetched car of tourists.

Officially, Cuba eliminated prostitution in 1959, and I would say I didn’t know prostitution in the 60’s or 70’s. Personally, I was a little boy living far away from Havana in a little town where everybody knew everybody, so I can’t say at that time that I knew someone as a prostitute, not in my town.

The first time I was in touch with that phenomenon was in Havana, mid 1980’s, and it was a big issue to talk about it. The newspapers and media in general never even try to mention, and in the public speeches, our leaders didn’t acknowledge. But you knew that here and there you could find someone working in the oldest job of our civilization.

According to some analysts and journalists, prostitution exploded at the end of the 80’s and at the beginnings of the 90’s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the beginnings of the Special Period in Cuba. At that time, Fidel Castro reshaped the economy and made the tourist industry the key factor in its recovery.

You can’t find any statistics about levels of prostitution in Cuba and how is structured in ages, sexes and social patterns. If exists, those numbers are kept as estate secret and any attempt to publish is considered a capital crime. I still remember one unsuccessful attempt in the 90’s in the newspaper belonged to the Communist Youth: the article was inspired in the successful Glasnost in the Soviet Union, and just barely acknowledged the issue without any troubling mention to statistical numbers. But just the attempt to act as inspired in such an opening caused the tremor of the regime: the journalist was vanished from the newspaper forever. I don’t even have to say that that fact didn’t mean the convenient extinction of prostitution in Cuba.

From 1990 to 1998, prostitution was almost a legal business in Havana. You could go to any hotel, resort, disco club and you could find the convenient girl waiting close to the entrance. You could tip the security officer in the entrance of any hotel and the doors were opened. Police, tourist workers, even government officials were mixed in such splendid business and the dimensions were so big that Fidel Castro couldn’t avoid the problem so many times denied by him. Even the spoiled former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Roberto Robaina, was overshadowed when his wife, director of one of the Cuban travel agencies, was involve with corruption and traffic of influence to promote prostitution. Robaina was cut off forever from the planet Cuba.

Year 1998 is marked as the point of inflexion. After a thunderous speech of Fidel Castro, Cuba threw the Operation “LACRA” against prostitutes and pimps, night clubs and corrupted officials. From that time the war against prostitution (known as “jineteras” to the Cubans) become as stronger as the war against dissidents. It was a question of pride to Castro who, in countless occasions, refused to acknowledge the real Cuba as always has done.

Against all the odds and thunders, prostitution came to Cuba to stay, I can’t say forever, but honestly it looks like is going to be forever. At least, as far as our life will be ripping off into pieces. Our nocturnal flowers of Fifth Avenue, as Silvio Rodriguez sang to them, disappeared and nowadays are surfing internet, sending messages via SMS or emails to their clients abroad, even before they arrive to Havana.

It is not a joke, or an invention of the imperialism, the CIA or Obama. On top of my mother house is living a family whose whole source of income is coming from any form of prostitution conceivable. Let me tell just a bit.

The family members are four people: the head of the family, the mother (I would like to keep its anonymity by obvious reasons) and 3 sons and one daughter. All of them make a living of the prostitution. The male members mostly with gay tourists, the daughter is more straight oriented to put in some way. But it is not a secret to any of the neighbours who not only treat them politely but even please them with praise and respect. Prostitution became a celebrated profession as could be a doctorate in Sciences, and this is not a joke. A fancy car paid by one of her older son’s “friends”, piles and piles of dollars spend in Varadero, rum and electronics, and a train of life rumbling over the top. They are the king of our neighbourhood, literally.

Our society not only assumed the fact that prostitution exist, but even recognize it as a respectful trade. Something that even in the worse memories of our history never happened.

Today probably you couldn’t find any of those wild flowers embellishing Fifth Avenue. They don’t need to catch the ugly tourist walking Malecon, or risking a night in any Police station. A few them still make the round, of course, maybe amateurs or the worst of the bunch, but for the others: a phone call, a taxi in the front door or the inevitable rent car set off for Varadero.

I don’t have any numbers to offer, but this is not a matter of numbers, statistics and flowers. It is a matter of survival in Havana.