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University of California Press
From Cuba with Love: Sex and Money in the Twenty-First Century / Edition 1

From Cuba with Love: Sex and Money in the Twenty-First Century / Edition 1

by Megan D. Daigle


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From Cuba With Love deals with love, sexuality, and politics in contemporary Cuba. In this beautiful narrative, Megan Daigle explores the role of women in Cuban political culture by examining the rise of economies of sex, romance, and money since the early 1990s. Daigle draws attention to the violence experienced by young women suspected of involvement with foreigners at the hands of a moralistic state, an opportunistic police force, and even their own families and partners.

By exploring the lived reality of the Cuban women and men who date tourists, and offering a unique perspective on the surrounding debates, From Cuba With Love raises issues about women's bodies–what they can or should do and, equally, what can be done to them. Daigle's provocative perspective will make readers think twice about how race, gender, sexuality, and politics in Cuba are tied to women and sex, and the ways in which political power acts directly on the bodies of individual people through law, policing, institutional programs, and social norms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520282988
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 01/16/2015
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Megan Daigle is a postdoctoral fellow at the Gothenburg Centre for Globalization and Development.

Read an Excerpt

From Cuba with Love

Sex and Money in the Twenty-First Century

By Megan Daigle


Copyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95883-8


From Mulata to Jinetera


Nations stand up and greet one another. "What are we?" is the mutual question, and little by little they furnish answers.

José Martí, Our America

I arrived in Cuba with a copy of a United Nations report tucked between the pages of a notebook. The report had been filed by Radhika Coomaraswamy, then the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, after her visit to Cuba in 2000, and I returned to it many times over the course of my time there. Its pages were filled with accounts of an almost Orwellian system of "behaviour modification"—arbitrary arrests, police brutality, and rehabilitation centers for prostitutes and other "at-risk" women where, the Special Rapporteur noted, they are kept "until the dangerousness disappears from the subject." Other interviews and testimonies confirmed that around 1996 police had begun subjecting young women seen walking alone, and especially black and mixed-race women, to spontaneous searches and identification checks in Havana and Varadero. Reports of police violence and arbitrary arrests of young women became increasingly common, as did bribery, extortion, and sexual abuse of detainees. In Varadero, a major enclave of resort tourism, thousands of arrests were made during this time—as many as six thousand in a single year—in the name of "sanitizing" the town. New rules were enacted that prevented Cubans not registered to live or work there from even entering the town and forbade Cubans from riding in private cars with foreigners unless they were licensed taxi drivers. These regulations are still in place today: while working in Varadero, I would meet Cuban friends just outside the town limits for car trips to and from other places.

By 1998 the campaign escalated. With the support of Cuba's organization for women, the Federación de Mujeres Cubanas, a cleanup campaign—or "crusade," to use Fusco's term—began, under the name Operativo Lacra. There were raids on nightclubs and bars, sweeps of entire neighborhoods, and mass arrests of women based on their style of dress, the company in which they were found, their presence in the street at night, and even their skin color. Guajiras from the countryside, working-class women, and especially mulatas and other Afro-Cuban women were targeted for surveillance, arrest, forced gynecological examinations, and incarceration, sometimes just while walking home from work or friends' houses. Upon arrest, women were given a carta de advertencia, or warning letter; three such cartas led to a summary trial, after which the women were sent to a rehabilitation center for an indeterminate sentence of up to four years. In 2000 the authorities indicated to the U.N. Special Rapporteur—the first to be allowed into Cuba—that they planned to build such centers in each of Cuba's then fourteen (now fifteen) provinces, but in her report Coomaraswamy recommended the closure of the centers because they "violate the rights of prostitutes."

These stories beg two main questions. First, what is so objectionable about these sexual liaisons to the Cuban state? Cuba is ostensibly a country with a progressive attitude toward sexuality, based on the East German model of sex education, and Cuba's sexual culture is very frank and open. What is more, prostitution is not explicitly against any law in Cuba, as I would later be assured by the FMC and the penal code itself, so this campaign against it seemed incongruous to say the least. Second, how did these particular women—young, attractive, black or mixed race—come to be seen in such a way? The reports of arrests suggest that the jinetera must be a signifier for far more than meets the eye. In archives, galleries, and libraries, I pieced together that the story of the jinetera runs parallel to the history of Cuba. The influence of many different forces, often originating far from Cuba's shores—Roman Catholicism, Spanish colonialism, Moorish sexual values, the racial system of the slave economy, socialist ideology, Monroe Doctrine–era American expansionism, even English Victorianism—is undeniable, but together these elements elaborate an idiosyncratic Cuban ambiente.

In this history, moments of crisis such as colonial conquest, the wars of independence, and the Revolution throw into relief the subtler and never-ending processes of coercive subjection and creative subjectification. Major ideological and political upsets may come and go, but certain overarching themes persist (and shape the pages to come): the understanding of women of color as sexual and sexualized beings, dating to the colonial period; the establishment of a masculine nationalism, born of a protracted struggle for independence and embodied by the mambí and the New Man; and recurring moments of a stringent, moralizing discipline over women's bodies, one which is inflected with both Catholic and, later, socialist ideology. Women and men, black and white, are configured in the national imaginary over time by discourses of race, gender, class, and sex, producing a sexuality and a sexual subject that underpins how we understand the jinetera: who she is and what she means for Cuba and for Cubans. In the process, prostitution becomes an image of thought that travels to sites of anxiety—be they urban districts, metaphors for imperialism, or bodies—in times of crisis and insecurity.


The history of sexuality in Cuba is inextricably bound up with the island's centuries-long encounter with colonialism—and with the interlocking histories of slavery and machismo that brought indigenous, European, and African together on the island that Columbus named Isla Juana. From the very beginning, as they founded the first colonial cities and subdued native resistance, Spanish settlers looked to the native Guanajatabey and Taíno peoples for concubines and sometimes wives. Indigenous women were vulnerable to white settlers' advances and existed, to European eyes, outside the moral codes that governed European behavior. According to testimony from a settler named Juan González de León, dated 12 November 1538, the conquistador Diego Velázquez himself maintained a barracks behind his home where he kept young native women whom he had selected for his personal use and that of his soldiers. The Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas, a fervent supporter of the rights of Cuba's indigenous people, reported to the Spanish royal court at the time that many native women and girls had died as a result of the sexual abuse they endured. Particularly in the early years, when European women were not yet encouraged to move to the colony, systemic sexual abuse seems to have served as an effective tool of colonial subjugation and certainly contributed to the near-obliteration of the indigenous peoples from Cuba within a century of contact, alongside European diseases, the privations of slavery, and suicide.

As the indigenous people rapidly disappeared from the island and as the numbers of Spanish settlers increased, the colony slowly began to import African slaves to provide labor for its growing plantation system, first for tobacco and later for sugarcane. The first three hundred enslaved Africans arrived in Cuba in 1522, but as trade was tightly controlled by Spain their numbers grew only incrementally at first. The Seven Years' War, however, brought the British navy to the port of Havana in 1762 and, with it, dramatic changes to the social landscape. Cuba was surrendered back to Spain under the Treaty of Paris after only ten months, but in that time the British had introduced free trade. This triggered an influx of thousands of slaves, brought in chains from Yoruba-speaking parts of West Africa to work in the ever-expanding sugarcane plantations. The island's white criollo elite, the descendants of Spanish settlers, began to enjoy such prosperity as slave owners that the Spanish authorities declined to reinstate the old regulations. Ships bearing African slaves continued to pour into Cuba until slavery was finally abolished in the late nineteenth century, such that by 1817 the population of free and enslaved Afro-Cubans significantly outpaced the criollos.

From such violent founding moments—the near-extermination and subjugation of one race, the relocation of a second, and the alienation and enslavement of a third—the nation of Cuba began to take shape with sexuality at its heart. A significant contingent of Chinese laborers was eventually brought to Cuba as well, but the construction of Cuba's national imaginary had already taken shape around the interplay of indigenous, African, and European. Colonial sexuality was fraught by anxiety over racial mixing from the very beginning, taking shape as it did under the auspices of a very powerful Roman Catholic Church, a repressive slave economy, and fears of miscegenation. White criollo elites' preoccupations with racial purity were only exacerbated by the uprising of slaves in the 1791 Haitian Revolution, which sent chills down the spines of the slave-owning classes across the region and inspired a great deal of anxiety over preserving racial lines, and more specifically, the purity of white women.

The first legal restrictions on marriages between people of different racial backgrounds were enacted in 1776. By 1805 those people considered to possess limpieza de sangre, or purity of blood, needed licenses to marry according to civil law. In practice, few license applications were refused, but the legislation granted concerned family members the power to challenge in court a couple's intent to marry in the name of upholding social conventions and values, the broader implication being that interracial marriage would weaken the socioeconomic order in the colony. The emancipation of African American slaves in the United States in the 1860s only further inflamed racist nerves, and interracial marriage was legally prohibited in Cuba in 1864.

The burden of proving racial purity and sexual morality remained a question that fell to Cuban women, and the outward projection of morality and honour became the central conditioning factor of their daily lives. In Cuba, and across Latin America, the governing principle of acceptable sexuality was pudor, an idea that is Spanish in its etymology and its conservatism and that translates as "modesty," "reserve," or even "shame." Women, as the bearers of children and gatekeepers of sexual morality, were required to demonstrate pudor in their dress, manner, choices, and behavior. This was true across much of Latin America at the time, but it has been argued that Cuba saw a more extreme incarnation, manifesting in an even stricter regime of surveillance and control over women's bodies, although this ideal was possible only for the privileged who could afford to totally seclude their women—that is, white families. Day to day, in the interest of preserving their personal integrity, safeguarding bloodlines, and guaranteeing the paternity of children, white women were all but confined to their homes to such an extent that, on arrival in Havana in 1853, the nineteenth-century Colombian traveler Nicolás Tanco Armero made the following remarks: "Where are the women and where can one find them in Havana? ... If one goes out into the street, they are nowhere to be found; if one goes for a stroll, one hardly sees one or two in carriages; if one draws near to the windows, one finds them deserted. It is the most difficult undertaking in the world, endeavouring to see these daughters of Eve.... Where have the women of Havana gone? Why is it so difficult to see them?"

So great was the isolation of upper-class, "pure-blooded" women that they were restricted even from speaking to other people, especially men, when passing through public spaces. Hippolyte Piron observed at the time that women living with such severe restrictions often developed means to communicate using just the movements of their eyes and the flutters of the ubiquitous hand-held fans they carried to ward off the tropical heat. "The language of the fan," Piron wrote, "is one of the most curious things in this country." The sociologist Abel Sierra Madero traces this practice of isolation to the Christian tradition, Moorish influence brought to Cuba from Spain, and even Victorian English values. Virginity and chastity were prized attributes in (white) women, explicitly linked to their personal honor and that of their families, and upper-class white women were confined to private spaces to preserve these characteristics. Only a female sexuality that was chaste, passive, demure, without passion, and easily contained by the restrictive philosophy of pudor was deemed acceptable and proper by colonial ideals.

Meanwhile, the social production of respectable wives and mothers—good women—as lily-white paragons of chastity, passivity, and virtue, uninterested in sex and even frigid, necessarily evokes its other: the bad woman. Afro-Cuban women, whether free or enslaved, were usually obliged to work outside their homes as domestic servants and plantation workers or as seamstresses and laundresses in the cities and thus represented opportunities for sexual adventures for white men in their very accessibility. In contrast to feminine meekness, male sexuality was constructed as insatiable and voracious, in need of an outlet; where virtuous women were meant to see sex as a duty, and an unhappy one at that, men pursued it freely, actively, and without fear of stigma. Their desire to prove their virility through sexual conquest was the other side of the coin of gendered colonial sexuality, and women of color became the objects of male lust, due to their subordinate status as social inferiors to, and frequently as literal possessions of, (white) men. From the earliest days of African presence in Cuba, white men sought out African women for sex on the plantations and in the cities. These encounters, as well as the children they frequently produced, quickly began to complicate easy racial hierarchies and the very idea of racial purity. This intermingling of races created—both literally and figuratively—a central mythic figure in the Cuban imaginary: the mulata.

The mulata is a figure who transcends borders, existing in any locale where slave plantations once were. Her being speaks to the specifically sexual facet of colonial violence, to the frequently intimate nature of the relationship between master and slave, colonizer and colonized. The terms in which they were (and are) described—often the same scales used for grading coffee, tobacco, and sugar—served to further embed them in tropicalist mystique and to commoditize them as objects of (male) pleasure. The product of illicit sex, the mulata was interpreted as the embodiment of sex and sexuality. Moving through the city streets while white women remained chastely at home, the mulata was highly visible and available. She became the quintessential mistress, characterized by innate beauty, sensuality, and licentiousness: born of lust, made of lust. A popular saying, also common in Brazil, highlights this: "White women [are] for marrying, black women [are] for working, and mulatas [are] for sex."

In the Cuban colony, though often not presented with much choice, many mulata women were nonetheless savvy actors who navigated a complex economy of desire—of others as well as their own. Individual women of color, living within a racially hierarchical society, frequently found relations of concubinage to their advantage: they were provided with a better standard of living than any man of color could provide, and their children were propelled farther up the ladder of whiteness. This process of "whitening," or blanqueamiento, was a social practice linked to notions of racial development that sometimes went so far as to omit the mother's name from birth registration documents, a "widespread" practice, so that children could better pass for white (or whiter). As many black and mixed-race women told their daughters, "Mejor amante de un blanco que esposa de un negro [Better to be the lover of a white man than the wife of a black man]." Certainly, white men of means rarely sought to marry women of color, but they frequently entered into long-term arrangements of concubinage with them, even while married to white women, since the construction of masculinity as sexually voracious made white men's adulterous, nonheteronormative relationships permissible, if still quietly so. Their adultery and engagement in miscegenation was rendered intelligible by divergent configurations of men's and women's sexuality.


Excerpted from From Cuba with Love by Megan Daigle. Copyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: Ochún and Yemayá
1. From Mulata to Jinetera: Prostitution as Image of Thought
2. Love, Sex, Money, and Meaning: Interrogating Jineterismo on the Ground
3. Lessons in Subterfuge: Everyday Acts of Repression and Resistance
4. There Is Only One Revolution: State Institutions and the Moral Revolution
5. Conduct Unbecoming: Bodily Resistance and the Ethics of the Self
Conclusion: On the Malecón


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