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Prostitution was a profitable profession for some women prior to the Cuban Revolution. So lucrative was this vocation that those who engaged in sex for money knew no other trade and it was not uncommon to see a young child in her preteens soliciting men in one of the red-light districts. Class distinction and poor social conditions influenced those who decided on this vocation; it was a way to escape poverty and hunger.
Men from all over the world came to the island to visit well-known establishments to satisfy their sexual appetites, choosing women—whose colors ranged from porcelain white to ebony black—from a catalogue. All this changed when Fidel Castro and the July 26 Movement took power in Viewing prostitution as degrading to women, the new revolutionary government set about eliminating the business and with the founding of the Federation of Cuban Women FMC in , they embarked on a campaign of education and vocational training for those who knew no other skill other than selling their bodies.
The campaign was a success, and though it is impossible to say that prostitution was totally eliminated, there was soon no visible evidence of it. Red-light districts, houses of ill repute and open solicitation no longer existed. Following the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Eastern Bloc countries, all trade agreements that existed between these countries and Cuba were broken, and the "Special Period" of economic strain began.
The lack of hard currency dollars and the material wherewithal like petroleum to run the country forced the island to develop its tourism industry to generate income. And with the rise of tourism came the creation of the "jinetero. Jinetero is the modernization of the word jinete, which means "jockey. Many women who will openly say that they are jineteras would be insulted if you called them prostitutes.
When asked where the difference lies they will say that they are not selling their bodies for money, they are only looking for a good time and whatever else might come their way. Unlike the jinetera or prostitute of yesterday, today's "working girls" have access to education, housing and medical care. Many are university students or graduates, or have certificates of completion in vocational programs. Like those of the s, these women will cite economics and inaccessibility to certain goods or establishments as the reasons why they do what they do.