Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

17 de Abril del 2000


Pinar del Rio.- A group of tourists was astonished at what they saw. It seemed right out of a movie: There was a policeman running after a small child and shouting. The child was of primary-school age.

Another policeman nearby noticed the tourists and began to try to explain to them what was going on. He described new prohibitions and laws against the "street urchins." He said there are too many of them but then stopped himself and looked about nervously, as if wondering if he had said too much. He seemed frightened about the strategic information that he might have leaked to foreigners.

Shortly afterwards the policeman who had run after the child joined the other, the child in tow. This happened at the very corner of the city's liquor factory, a popular site for tourists since the Cuban drink "Guayabita del Pinar" has become famous. Kids take advantage of that daily influx of tourists. The youngsters are always at the ready. They ask tourists for everything and anything, from chewing gum to a ballpoint pen, from candy to a dollar bill.

That morning there were a large number of kids waiting for the tourist buses. It was then that one of the policemen began the chase. The other children scattered in every direction. The policemen took away - in a police car - the child they captured.

The tourists were Spaniards; before the boy was taken away, some of them asked that the child be released. The policemen ignored the request.

The remaining policeman continued giving an unconvincing explanation of what he called "laws to protect the tourist." He said nothing about protecting children. Several tourists left him and entered the liquor factory.

But one Spaniard stayed and began taking notes as the policeman spoke. Finally, the last Spaniard also left. The policeman frowned; there was not much more he could do. The tourists could do anything they cared to - on the island. The police would not bother them.

The kids watched from the next block. They did not dare approach the factory. That morning things had not gone well. They would have to wait for another day and another group of foreign visitors. Perhaps the smartest ones in the group could get something. These kids came into their "trade" in the early 90's when the tourist visits grew massively, especially in Pinar del Rio province. The begging became an easy task.

The government agents have sounded an alarm and started a series of repressive actions. But this has not stopped the children. Nothing can contain their hunger or need. Most of them are the children of low salaried laborers. Some come from unemployed families. Many have left school permanently. Their parents accept that reality. Many times the kids bring home items that their parents could not afford. The luckier ones bring money.

The girls are the saddest cases. Many of them fall into the swamp of prostitution and within a couple of years are full-fledged "jineteras" (prostitutes). They move on to places where the pickings are better such as luxury hotels where the lower classes of Cubans are not allowed to go.

We all know where these things begin. At the entrance to the liquor factory, where as children they enjoy the gifts given to them by the tourists...risking getting caught by the police. Once in a while the "tourist" taking notes is a Cuban who publishes these chronicles and dedicates them to the "wild children" of the streets.

Rafael Contreras Bueno, Cuba Free Press.

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