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Cuba Varadero Crackdown

Date: 7 June 1996


Knight-Ridder Newspapers June 7, 1996

HAVANA - Facing troubling increases in HIV cases and sexually transmitted
diseases, Cuba is cracking down on prostitution at a beach resort that has
become a notorious bastion of sex tourism.

``We had the challenge of sanitizing Varadero . . . because the situation
there already had achieved the character of an international scandal,''
Prosecutor General Juan Escalona told reporters.

Reports from the resort 90 miles east of Havana say police are making
nightly roundups of scores of prostitutes, keeping a list of apartments and
houses where they take clients and closing some of the rowdier bars.

``There are very few (prostitutes) around,'' said one Varadero hotel
employee. ``The bars and the beaches are almost empty. It is very sad.''

Such glumness is a far cry from the recent Varadero scenes of young women
aggressively propositioning dollar-carrying tourists, especially Europeans
and Mexicans, at night clubs and restaurants.

Cocaine and marijuana were easily obtainable in Varadero, Cubans say,
making the resort well known around the Western world as a place to find
cheap male and female prostitutes, good food and warm waters.

Cuban officials initially did little about the mushrooming prostitution,
apparently trying not to disturb the island's 900,000-visitor-a-year
tourism industry.

Authorities made a run at Havana's estimated 6,000 prostitutes in December,
driving them out of tourist hotels, arresting some of the more brazen ones
on the seaside Malecon and keeping them moving on the notorious Fifth

But Varadero remained an enclave of relatively open prostitution until
three weeks ago, when police launched the crackdown and health officials
stepped up their commentaries on the health risks of prostitution.

New HIV-positive cases reported in the first four months of this year rose
to 80, compared with 34 during the same period last year, the head of a
Havana AIDS sanatorium said last week in the Agenda Abierta radio program.

And the number of gonorrhea and blennorrhea cases, both sexually
transmitted diseases, rose from 34,223 in 1994 to 41,406 in 1995, Dr.
Alfredo Abreu Daniel, chief of the National Group on Dermatology, announced
in February.

This in a country that took draconian steps to prevent the spread of AIDS,
such as confining HIV-positive patients to sanatoriums, and achieved one of
the world's lowest growth rates in cases.

``We don't want to waste the extraordinary effort the country is making in
the prevention of AIDS and venereal diseases,'' Prosecutor General Escalona
said Sunday in Cuba.

A new penal code under consideration, Escalona said, will tighten sanctions
on pimps and others who live off prostitution, such as taxi drivers;
increase jail terms when the cases involve minors; and allow the seizure of
homes used by jineteras.

While the increases in HIV-positive cases and other sexually transmitted
diseases might seem significant, health experts cautioned that the numbers
point to a still-small incidence of such diseases in Cuba. Cuba has
reported a total of only 1,600 HIV-positive patients and 400 AIDS deaths.

``An increase from 34 to 80 is really very little for a country of 11
million. Look at a lot of other countries and the rate of increase is more
significant,'' said Julie Feinsilver, author of ``Healing the Masses,'' a
book on the health policies of Cuba's revolutionary government.

``In terms of Cuba's ability to keep a lid on (the spread of AIDS) it's
important, but not in terms of the rest of the world,'' she added. ``It's
amazing it hasn't increased more, because of the increased sex activity
(through tourism) and the lack of adequate protection.''

Cuba needs 160 million condoms a year but can afford only 43 million,
Health Minister Carlos Dotres said in Spain last month. He blamed the
problem on the U.S. trade embargo.

Cuba's general state of health has deteriorated because of the lack of
adequate hygiene and nutrition since the collapse of the Soviet Union and
its subsidies to the island in 1991.

There are physicians in almost every city block and clinics in almost every
village, but many medicines are virtually unavailable, and hospitals lack
everything from bedsheets to sutures and X-ray film.

While officials initially regarded prostitution as an unavoidable byproduct
of Cuba's opening to Western tourism, the increases in sexually transmitted
diseases and the negative publicity of sex tourism have clearly irked
leaders in Havana.

Cuban President Fidel Castro complained at the start of the Varadero
campaign last month that prostitution, drugs and other crime - problems
increasing for several years - ``are inadmissible in a socialist society.''

And Vilma Espin, Castro's sister-in-law and traditional head of the Cuban
women's organization, called for a battle against prostitution ``not only
for the dignity of women, but for the dignity of Cuba.''

Subject: Re: veradero? Date: Tue, 17 Sep 96 02:46:15 GMT >does anyone knows the current situation in veradero? I was there in the end of august. There is polices everywhere. They don't let cuban girl hang with tourism anymore. At night there is almost no girl in bars and in the street. So forget that place.

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