With a tight sweater and gel-smeared hair, he offers his body for only twenty convertible pesos a night. His face, with its high cheekbones and slanted eyes, is common among those from the East of the country. He constantly moves his arms, a mixture of lasciviousness and innocence that at times provokes pity, at others desire. He is a part of the vast group of Cubans who earn a living from the sweat of their pelvis, who market their sex to foreigners and locals. An industry of quick love and brief caresses, that has grown considerably on this Island in the last twenty years.
Havana has the air of a brothel at times, particularly if you pass through Monte Street where it meets Cienfuegos. Young women in their flashy – if a little faded – clothes offer their “merchandise,” especially after night falls and the spandex doesn’t look quite as baggy nor the circles under their eyes quite as dark. These are the ones who can’t compete with those who can snag a manager or a tourist to take them to a hotel and offer them, the next morning, a breakfast that comes with milk. These are the ones who don’t wear perfume and who finish their work in the cramped quarters of a solar or even on the landing under the stairs. They traffic in groans, exchanging spasms for money.
These men and women – merchants of desire – avoid tripping over the uniformed police who guard the area. Falling into their hands can mean a night in a cell or, for those in the city illegally, deportation to your home province. Everything can be “resolved” if the officer accepts the hint of a probing thigh and agrees to withhold an official warning in exchange for a few minutes of privacy. Some officers return regularly to take their cut, in money or in services, that allows these nocturnal beings to continue taking up their positions on the corner. A woman who refuses the exchange can find herself in a prostitute reeducation camp, while the men might be charged with the crime of pre-criminal dangerousness.
And so the cycle of sex for money comes full circle, in a city where honest work is a museum relic and the needs bring many to position their bodies and swing their hips in hopes of an offer.