May 1, 2001

Castro comments on Cuban prostitution

                  HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- Cuban prostitutes may be the target of a state
                  campaign to prevent a sex trade on the Caribbean island but they can boast high
                  educational standards, President Fidel Castro said on Monday.

                  "One day when I was down in Brazil, an Argentinian asked me 'Is it true that
                  some girls who are university graduates sometimes practice prostitution?"'
                  Castro said in a rare public reference to a highly sensitive subject for Cuba's

                  "I replied instantly, without thinking, 'That proves prostitutes in Cuba have a
                  university level,' " he added, laughing at the anecdote given during a lengthy
                  speech to close a Cuban workers' congress in Havana.

                  The comment underlined both Castro's pride in his government's widely praised
                  education system, and his concern for the re-emergence of a prostitution
                  problem he thought his socialist system had eradicated decades ago.

                  Once known as "the brothel of the Caribbean" due to its reputation as a haven for
                  rich Americans looking for sex, gambling and a swinging nightlife, Cuba
                  drastically cleaned up society after Castro's 1959 revolution.

                  But the problem came back at the start of the 1990s against a backdrop of
                  increased economic hardship for locals, and an opening to tourism which
                  brought foreigners flooding back.

                  "The situation was very tough," Castro said, in what was only his second
                  reference to prostitution in public following a January 1998, speech where he
                  declared war on various growing vices, including prostitution, drugs and violent

                  "Some people were coming here with ideas of sexual tourism ... There were
                  cases of what we call 'jineterismo'," he said, using a Cuban slang word for
                  street-hustling and prostitution.

                  'Perfecting our methods'

                  "We began taking adequate measures to combat these outbreaks. And we are still
                  perfecting our methods ... We understand this problem, and our methods are
                  human," Castro added, saying "advances" were expected.

                  Castro gave no figures this time, whereas he had laced his 1998 speech with
                  statistics like the fact that more than 6,700 prostitutes and around 190 pimps
                  were rounded up in Havana in the first 11 months of that year.

                  He also made no reference to Cuba's latest tactics in the fight on prostitution,
                  which since 1998 has included the closure of bars and discotheques, night raids,
                  the sending of thousands of women to rehabilitation schools, and new penalties
                  for sex-related crimes like child abuse or pimping.

                  In a speech mainly dedicated to familiar political topics, and recognition of the
                  workers' role in 42 years of socialism, Castro also thanked the World Bank for
                  some rare praise.

                  Earlier Monday, World Bank President James Wolfensohn had lauded Cuba,
                  which is not a member of the loan body, for its "terrific job" on scoring better on
                  social measures than most other developing nations in the region.

                  "I have no objection in thanking Mr. Wolfensohn and other leaders of that
                  institution for an acknowledgement that seems fair and was important because it
                  (Cuba's social record) constitutes something really exceptional," Castro said.

                  As well as achievements in health and education, Cuba has also won more
                  Olympic medals per capita than any other nation, Castro noted.

                  The Cuban leader has filled Cuban air-waves almost non-stop in recent days with
                  speeches, repeats of speeches, and pundits' analyses of his pronouncements.

                  Before he had even finished Monday night's speech -- which ended just after
                  midnight -- Castro was handed by an aide, and read out loud to the workers'
                  congress, a foreign news agency report summarizing his words at the start of
                  the speech.

                     Copyright 2001 Reuters.