Statements by Cuba’s minister of justice that prostitution is not a social problem on the island and that cases of child prostitution are “minimal” are evidence the government is turning a blind eye on the serious problems, a dissident Havana lawyer says.
“Cuba has … the judicial mechanisms that guarantee a severe confrontation of these acts,” Justice Minister Maria Esther Reus told a group of journalists Tuesday in Havana , as reported by the Associated Press and the Agence France Press news agencies.
“How amusing,” said Laritza Diversent after hearing Reus’ comments. The Havana attorney has consulted in several prostitution-related cases, including one involving the death of a 12-year-old girl in the eastern city of Bayamo in 2010.
“The problem is real and the government turns a blind eye,” she told El Nuevo Herald. “The government does not want to recognize that it (prostitution) is a structural problem. Otherwise it would have to recognize that a good part of the tourism that reaches Cuba is sex tourism.”
Reus, who has seldom if ever addressed the issue of prostitution in public, spoke to the journalists seven months after a joint inquiry by the Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald showed that foreign tourists, especially Canadians and Spaniards, are traveling to Cuba in surprising numbers for sex with underage girls and boys.
The minister reportedly said that 224 persons were convicted of pimping in 2012 and that seven foreigners are imprisoned on charges of abusing minors, but gave no details on the procurers’ sentences or the foreigners’ nationalities.
Cuba’s Tourism Ministry has taken steps to block sex tourism, she declared, prosecutions are difficult because prostitutes usually have a “consensual” relationship with their pimps and the number of cases of corruption of minors “are minimal.”
Diversent said many Cuban women clearly “chase after” foreign tourists for sex, paid in cash or gifts, and that while the government has never made public any figures on child prostitution, “the phenomenon is evident just walking down the streets.”
A Canadian man who phoned her recently for advice on how to file charges against a prostitute who had stolen some of his property gave her an ID card number for the prostitute that started with 99 — showing she was born in 1999 and was 14 years old, Diversent said.
AFP reported that Reus spoke to the journalists while “presenting a report on ‘the judicial-penal confrontation against the trafficking of persons and other forms of sexual abuse.’” The news agency added that the report had not yet been presented to any international organization.
Fidel Castro cracked down on prostitution after he seized power in 1959. But sex-for-pay returned with the island’s opening to international tourism and the grinding economic crisis of the early 1990s, sparked by Moscow’s decision to end its massive subsidies to Havana.
Prostitution is not illegal in Cuba, but procuring them for others is outlawed. The age of sexual consent on the island is 16.
Reus apparently also referred to the case of James McTurk, a 78-year-old convicted in Canada of traveling to Cuba several times to abuse young girls and possession of child pornography, according to the AP. McTurk featured prominently in the El Nuevo Herald-Toronto Star reports.
The minister “asserted that cases like the Canadian are often used politically against Cuba, where this type of crime gets ‘zero tolerance,’” the news agency reported.