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.
McTurk stayed many times at a nearby beach hotel, the Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, Robb added. Online guest reviews of the hotel and the adjoining Club Farallón show several complaints of male tourists hanging out with young Cuban prostitutes.
The mother declared that “Jimmy” always brought candy, pencils and clothes for the neighborhood children during his visits, about twice a year in recent years, “that he distributed in front of us adults.”
But after her daughter’s arrest police and a psychiatrist questioned four neighborhood girls, aged seven, nine and 12, for signs of abuse by the Canadian, according to Torres Jordan.
“The girls said that no, that at no time did he touch them, that he really was here to hand out little things to the girls,” the mother said in a recorded phone interview from Pilón with dissident Havana journalist Dania Virgen García, who writes often about prison abuses.
Torres Jordan later told an El Nuevo Herald journalist who phoned her from Miami that her daughter had been freed several weeks after her arrest and had moved out of Marea del Portillo, but she refused to provide further details on her complaint or the four little girls.
“That was confusion,” she said. “He did something in Varadero, but because he was also here they (Cuban authorities) did an investigation here.”
McTurk pleaded guilty in Toronto last month to charges of making child pornography, importing child pornography, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching and child sex tourism – with girls as young as three — and is in prison awaiting sentencing. He could spend the rest of his life behind bars if he is declared a dangerous offender.
The retired postal worker also was convicted of Cuba-related child pornography in 1995 and 1998 and was on the Canadian sex offender's registry. Yet McTurk made at least 29 trips to Cuba between November of 2008 and his last arrest in July 2012.
Court records show him flying from Varadero to Canada 20 times and seven times from Manzanillo, the town closest to Marea del Portillo and Pilón. He also returned home on one flight each from the eastern cities of Camaguey and Holguín.
Varadero taxi driver Rolando “Rolly” Cabrera Abreu, 43, told El Nuevo Herald that McTurk always brought little gifts, sweets and clothes for children during his many visits to the beach town over the 20 years that he worked for the tourist.
McTurk also “had a woman in each town” he visited, Cabrera said, listing Marea del Portillo, Varadero on the north central coast, Guardalavaca on the northeast coast and Amarillo beach east of Havana.
But McTurk never talked to him about sex with children, Cabrera insisted. If the Canadian was molesting children, he added, “that’s his problem. I know nothing about that.”
Police have never questioned him about McTurk, Cabrera added. But if asked he will say that he has “only the best opinion of him as a human being. I know nothing bad about Jimmy.”
“I am telling you this because of the fondness and friendship that I feel for him,” the taxi driver declared. “In Varadero, everyone knows Jimmy, and Jimmy knows everyone.”