Sex work in Cuba and the Dominican Republic has become a diluted term used to describe the relationship between citizens and tourists. Amalia Cabezas goes into much detail describing the similarities in both countries, and the misuse of the undefined term, sex work in her article “Between Love and Money: Sex, Tourism, and Citizenship in Cuba and the Dominican Republic”.
In the early 1900’s, the Dominican Republic and Cuba were under the United States’ control. While Cuba was able to successfully separate itself, the Dominican Republic struggled, leaving most of it’s citizens in poverty. Both nations were and still are heavily reliant on tourism, allowing their citizens to work in tourist areas to receive an income to provide for their families. This is where the term sex work came into use. Although many people associate this term with prostitution, these two countries perceive it in a different manner.
In Cuba the word jineterismo, meaning hustler, is used to label those who work directly with tourists for money, such as selling them small goods, helping them with directions, sightseeing, and occasionally sex. The men are referred to as jineteros, where they assist visitors with restaurants and other tourist attractions. Women, also known as jineteras, are the ones creating sexual relationships with the travelers. In fact, jineteras are seen as dominant sex workers who do this not as a form of work, but for pleasure instead. Pingueros is the term used to describe men who construct sexual relations with tourists. Although most of the pingueros are straight, they mainly had sexual relationships with men rather than women. When several interviews were done with pingueros, the men stated that they did not see the money or clothing given to them as payment for their services, but instead as a gift from a friend. The terms stated above are typically used on darker-skinned Cubans, where lighter-skinned Cubans are exempt.
Similarly in the Dominican Republic, the phrase sanky panky, also known as “beach boys” or gigolos, is used to describe those who are involved in sex work. These men and women used to cater to both male, female, gay and straight tourists, whereas now it consists mostly of middle-aged women. In the Dominican Republic, the “beach boys” do not seek sex from the visitors, but instead try to build a relationship. The term one-night-stand is viewed as unproductive. Instead, the sanky pankies shower the visiting women with extreme flirtatious behavior, take them sightseeing, out to dinner, dancing, and try to create a friendship, or a romantic relationship to encourage future visits.
In some cases in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic, creating relationships with tourists can be dangerous, especially for darker-skinned women. This is due to the fact that police officers will arrest women leaving discos, or other tourists-filled areas alone at night. In the Dominican Republic, sometimes the arrests will happen with no justification, and other times because they were “bothering” tourists. Women who are arrested are thrown in jail with murderers, and drug dealers, and are harassed and occasionally raped by police officers. They are typically not released until they can pay the fine. In Cuba however, the Federación de Mujeres Cubanas created a rehabilitation program. Women who have been arrested once are let off with a warning, and once they reach three arrests, then they can be sent to the rehabilitation center for up to four years, depending on “the degree of risk to society that the woman represents”. (Cabezas, 1006) The rehab center has not always been successful, but still continues to be used.
In both countries, the creation of a friendship between a citizen and tourist is seen as an overall beneficial relationship between the two. Often times, the tourist will pay for their boyfriend or girlfriend’s flight to visit them, or help provide for their families.
- Do you find the relationships or friendships created in Cuba or the Dominican Republic to be sex work?
- Do you think the rehabilitation center in Cuba is beneficial? If so should the Dominican Republic create a similar program?