Cuba Culture

“Prostitution” in Cuba - Jineteros, Jineteras and Extranjeros

Posted August 06, 2005 by publisher in Cuba Culture.

By Lylah M. Alphonse | Globe Staff

‘‘Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban” is an expanded version of the ‘‘Havana Honey” series published earlier this year online at, where author Lisa Wixon wrote using the name of her main character, Alysia Vilar.

A diplomat’s daughter born in Cuba, 25-year-old Alysia returns there on a yearlong student visa to look for her real father, a Cuban translator with whom her mother had an affair. With the US embargo in place, she is cut off from her life in the United States as she struggles to find Jose Antonio, using her late mother’s diaries as a guide. During her search she discovers how deeply she identifies with a country that she’s only just learned is her own.

Wixon spent nearly a year living in Cuba, and this book—her first—is part fiction, part expose, and part memoir. She steers the reader away from stereotypes and politics by avoiding several key words—‘‘Castro,” ‘‘Guantanamo,” and ‘‘Elian” among them—and in doing so focuses the reader’s attention on the complexities that are part of real life in communist Cuba, a place more European than Caribbean, a place where employers pay in pesos but life’s necessities can be purchased only with US dollars, a place where professors and practicing doctors must work as ‘‘jineteras,” sleeping with wealthy foreigners and hustling sex tourists to make ends meet.

The word ‘‘jinetera” is Spanish for a female jockey, and these women (and men, the ‘‘jineteros”) are skilled at manipulating their beasts. They have to be; their families rely on the money. Jineteras are not prostitutes but courtesans, crafting long-term relationships with the people who support them—a distinction that Wixon is careful to emphasize. She compares jineteras to the Greek hetairai, educated women who serviced, entertained, and ‘‘gallivanted with powerful men while their wives toiled in domesticity, bearing children and keeping house.”

‘‘Prostitutes accept pay for one night,” Camila, a cardiac surgeon and a jinetera, tells Alysia. ‘‘Jineteras use their education and skills to weave fantasies of love.”

Destitute after the family she’s boarding with steals her money and kicks her out of their home, Alysia learns about Cuba’s ‘‘pride-for-dollars economy” firsthand. Morality falls by the wayside quickly; Alysia needs the money to survive, to find her father. ‘‘In actual time with Terence, I’ve earned about $2.85 an hour. Or, conversely, if you add up my sexual tricks . . . it comes to about $22.85 per act. A biochemist makes $13 per month. Roach poison is $6 a bottle. Band-Aids are not sold.”

The picture that Wixon paints of life in Havana is both seedy and seductive, and she makes the case that pride and family are more important to many Cubans than the myriad luxuries that the US embargo makes impossible.

‘‘Don’t ever feel sorry for a Cuban,” Alysia’s friend Rafael tells her as he shows her photos of ‘‘extranjeros,” foreigners he’s romanced and swindled. ‘‘We’re smarter than the extranjeros. We let them believe they have the upper hand and are in control.”

Member Comments

On August 06, 2005, greslogo wrote:

This book and series of articles have been discussed in great detail on other boards in the past.

The general conclusion, although many of the anecdotes are quite believable, is that the author probably never went to Cuba or didn;t experience most of what she writes about. 

On August 08, 2005, redwood wrote:

greslogo—that’ interesting Greslogo.  After reading that the author said that Cuba is more European than the Carribbean, I wondered whether she went outside of Havana, since the sultry pace of havana was not different enough for her. 

On July 30, 2006, MARLILY wrote:

Im cuban american and yes i have been to cuba more then any one should be allowed to ,but i must say this book is great if you have ever been to the capital of cuba you could relate and understand from a foreigners point of view and a cuban. living in a land of communism,politics and poverty has made cuban women and men turn to the only way they can support a family.I dont defend jineteras but i dont punish them.

On July 15, 2007, jesus lorenzo wrote:

Esto es un libro de ficcion y no lo que pretende el autor del mismo. Ademas es aburrido y una repeticion de lo mismo. Como escritor el Sr. Amir Valle va de regular a malo !! Espero encuentre otra fuente de supervicencia pues como escritor se va a morir de hambre !!

On November 24, 2007, Derek Geofferton wrote:

I’m Australian, based in London, have a Cuban girlfriend, and have been to Cuba numerous times. Ms Moxon clearly HAS been to Cuba – there are too many accurate details for her not to have been. Her novel is a pretty well-drawn picture for the most part but she doesn’t get it right all the time. In particular, the comparison of jineteras with the Greek hetairai is fanciful nonsense. The point is this: if you’ve got 4 family members to support, it’s better to get a foreigner’s money for 7 days than 30 minutes. You don’t have to be cultured to do that. Jineteras come in all grades, just like hookers in other countries, the difference being that the minority of them want just a quickie.

One last point: Cuba isn’t like Europe or the rest of the Caribbean: it’s UNIQUE! Cubans are for the most part proud, inventive, resilient people. I take my hat off to them.

On January 15, 2009, publisher wrote:

We have launched a site to cover prostitution in Cuba along with love, girlfriends, wives and women in Cuba.

On October 23, 2009, A. de la Noix wrote:

It’s a pity that we don’t condone them.  And that we find fancy names for them such as ‘courtesans.’  They are whores of the lowest order, and all the more so because they are educated women.  Instead of selling themselves as cattle they should be looking for ways unite and speak up against the condition that a totalitarian state imposes on them.  Had ‘la Resistance’ in France given to Hitler’s tactics or had the revolutionary fathers such as Marti & Bolivar given in to Spain as ‘jineteros,’ would they have freed America Latina from the claws of tyrannical Spain.  Let us reconsider the locutions we apply to those who subvert the moral order of our nations.  Let’s call a spade a spade:  A whore is a whore is a whore…and a filthy one at that.