This young man, in his 30s, is a pimp who controls what he considers his "flock" in the area of El Malecón, in the center of the city, bordering on Old Havana. He agreed to share some details about how "the police receive direct benefits from prostitution and pimping."
His name, and that of everyone interviewed for this report, have been changed to prevent reprisals. The same is true of the exact locations of the homes where "the girls take the Johns to turn tricks."
From a discreet place one can observe Maribel pass a fiver to a couple of policemen stationed near the entrance to a building where she has offered her services to a Canadian.
"The fee we pay the police ranges between three and five dollars each time," says Maribel, 28, a native of Holguin.
"The police are a necessary evil in this business. They provide some security and warn you if there’s an operation in the area. They almost never ask us to pay 'in kind.' They want money," she adds. "You're better off not lying, because they’re on top of everything, they have a kind of network. If you get tagged as a rebel, you have two serious problems: with them and with your ‘controller.'"
Natalia is the owner of an illegal "house of dates," as she prefers to call her business, and she says that she has three inviolable rules: "no minors, no drug use, and no monkey business with the police."
"As long as I respect those 'three golden rules,' and I get paid $10 for each trick, everything is perfect. Here I receive two policemen who over the years became partners of mine and of Alexis. They take their slice right here. The truth is that it's outrageous that the girls have to pay, from their pockets, two men (the pimp and the police), but they chose this life, and that's part of the price to pay."
After a body search and removing his badge with his identification number, a police officer who is a "friend" of Alexis agrees to explain why he does not consider himself "corrupt" because he accepts money from the prostitution business.
"Everything is bad here, and you must know that no salary puts food on your table all month. They chose this work, which is forbidden, to survive. I just make sure that it's all smooth sailing. This way we all survive and everyone wins, nobody loses."
Prostituted and abused
The area of El Malecón, from Colón to Cárcel, is considered by the police to be a red light area. To keep a low profile, the police who profit from prostitution do not allow these women to sit on the wall at night.
"That's why some of us change 'opening time' to midmorning and until 6:00 pm," explains Yamila, age 23 and a resident of Guanabacoa.
"I have to work, rain or shine, because my husband, who is also my pimp, lets me have it when there's no money. On top of that I have to pay the police for this three or five 'tickets.' I've got no choice. If not, I'm screwed."
Alexis says he would never get his girl into prostitution, and he does not physically mistreat any of his girls. Dayán, his colleague, on the other hand, does so frequently, and in public, which "the police consider bad for this racket."
"The police prefer pimps that blend in, who are always moving and not staying in one place," says Anabel, the owner of a brothel.
"That Dayán guy is a problem because he stirs up trouble, and the police have promised to take him out of circulation. Every cop is looking for a pimp that has two or more girls under their control, because that doubles the chance of earning more in one day, and no one risks playing the 'game' when the heat is on."
For this service from these women a foreigner never pays less than $30. There is the $10 set by the house, plus the bribe for the police. The rest the prostitute has to share with her pimp, as agreed to between them.
A year ago Tania, age 27, decided to forego a pimp.
"He abused me, and sometimes I had to go out and work full of bruises, and the gringos don't like that. I decided that my pimp was going to be a cop. In the end it’s not the same splitting the money between three or two. Regardless of how the day goes, I pay him his $20. He liked the idea, and another two policemen are operating the same way, with less risk."