Cynthia Pope


The global political economy of desire influences the construction of gendered spaces in Cuba. One of the results of increasing global linkages has been the rise in sex tourism throughout the world. This is particularly salient in Havana where girls and women are increasingly being drawn to commercial sex work as a means for economic survival and access to dollars-only places, such as restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, and stores. Despite forty years of gender equity laws and a highly-educated population, sex work in Cuba has come full circle, and the nation is quickly gaining the reputation, “the Thailand of the Caribbean.”

This case study draws on 38 interviews with sex workers, locally known as jineteras, in Havana’s tourist districts. It examines the physical, social, and moral spaces in which sex work takes place and teases out some of the more salient power relations involved in creating and maintaining these spaces. Using a geographic lens illuminates some of the influences of sex work on Cuban society that otherwise may go unnoticed. Sex work in Havana is not merely a side note to the economic crisis of the 1990s. Rather, sex work affects many sectors of the dollars-only economy in Havana; it highlights race and class issues that many people think have been eradicated by Revolutionary ideology; and it shows how women’s bodies, and not just sex workers’ bodies, have been commodified for personal, and even national, economic gain.

Author Biography

Cynthia Pope, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Geography and co-director of Women’s Studies at Central Connecticut State University. She also serves on the editorial board for the Journal of HIV/AIDS Prevention in Children & Youth. Her research agenda focuses on the implications of sexuality, gender, space, and political economies for HIV/AIDS vulnerability in Africa and the Diaspora, primarily Cuba, Jamaica, Belize, and East Africa.