The Café Paris in downtown Havana, a seedy hangout for prostitutes from Cuba’s provinces, is reported to be nearly empty. So are several other bar-girl joints in the neighborhood, like La Mina, El Maragoto and the Golden Shower.
Prostitutes still prowl the working-class Centro Habana neighborhood at night. But a bigger and tougher police presence has driven them into alleys and backstreets and away from daylight hours, according to Havana residents.
Police arrested some of the women, forced others aboard trains or their home provinces and warned others to stay away from the more visible areas — just as they have done during their many previous drives against on Havana’s always thriving sex trade.
But Havana journalists say this latest drive, launched in early April, came in direct response to reports on child sex tourism in Cuba published by The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald March 15-17 after a joint investigation.
Police also detained one of the girlfriends of a Canadian named in the reports — James McTurk, 78, convicted of child sex tourism with Cuban girls as young as three — and questioned four girls aged seven to 12 for signs of abuse by McTurk.
Yet the taxi driver who worked for the Canadian for 20 years — and recalled his many girlfriends in the beach resorts of Varadero, Guardalavaca and Marea del Portillo — said police never questioned him about his “good friend Jimmy.”
Toronto police told the Star that they have passed on information about McTurk’s victims to Cuba through Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and have received good cooperation from Cuban authorities.
Cuba’s state news media monopoly has made no mention of the newspapers’ reports. But two dissident Havana journalists and bloggers who write often about prostitution asserted that the police launched the clampdown in reaction to the reports.
“I believe your stories were the detonators for the crackdown,” Ivan Garcia, 43, said by phone from Havana. Victor Manuel Dominguez, also speaking by phone from Cuba, added: “Those reports clearly unleashed the wave of repression.”
Dominguez, 56, said the stepped up police pressure drove prostitutes out of an unofficial “zone of tolerance” for low-priced prostitutes from the provinces near San Lazaro and Belascoaín streets in the Centro Habana.
He ticked off the now-desolate hooker hangouts he can see on his walks to a nearby bookstore: the Café Paris, La Mina, the bar Casa del Escabeche, the Las Ruinas park, the bar Lluvia de Oro and the Maragoto Café within the Hotel Florida.
Havana lawyer Veizant Boloy, who writes for several Web pages, noted in a column that the Star and Nuevo Herald reports “alerted the authorities and forced them to take serious measures,” including the arrests of more than 20 women in one raid on April 9.
That was the same day police arrested Delvis Reitor Torres, 25, for investigation on charges of corruption of minors because of her relationship with an elderly Canadian known only as “Jimmy,” according to her mother, Gisela Torres Jordán.
Toronto Police Det. Paul Robb, who investigated McTurk, said a search of his Toronto apartment last July turned up the names of Reitor Torres and at least four of her neighbors in the southeastern village of Marea del Portillo, in the municipality of Pilón in Granma province.