Canadians Among Most Common Sex Tourists in Cuba: Investigation

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Canadian men are among the most common customers of child prostitutes in Cuba, according to a newspaper investigation which highlights the difficulties of tackling the international sex trade.

A series by the Toronto Star and US newspaper El Nuevo Herald revealed Canadian sex tourists were able to exploit various loopholes aimed at monitoring sex offenders in order to travel to Cuba and abuse children.

The sex offender registry is not accessible to border agents and there is no system for tracking such offenders’ movements. Offenders have to inform law enforcement if they are leaving the country but only if it is for more than seven days and they can give notice once they have already gone. Laws allow for the prosecution of Canadian citizens who commit crimes abroad but it is a long and difficult process. Since the legislation was passed in 1997 there have only been five known convictions for sex tourism, “one of the worst records in the Westen world,” according to the Toronto Star.

The reporters found hotel staff were easily able to arrange meetings with child prostitutes or their pimps, for as little as $30 a night, as victims and their families sought to escape poverty. Cuba is popular for Canadians as it is has a very low HIV rate and is quicker and cheaper to get to than Southeast Asia, where other popular sex tourism destinations are found. Cuban authorities “deny the problem,” said the newspaper.

Following the publication Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews told the country’s House of Commons, “It is clear more needs to be done. (…) We intend to take further action and we welcome the support of the Toronto Star.” However, no specific proposals were outlined. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald investigation highlights the immense challenges in dealing with transnational sex crimes. If a country’s own border officials are unable to access national sex offender records then clearly coordinated global action is a long way off. 

Moreover, the exchange of sex for money, even with children, will persist in Cuba as long as there are islanders desperate for money and visiting tourists with disposable income. A poor population and wealthy visitors create the prime conditions for sex tourism. While measures such as those introduced in Colombia and Costa Rica — where certain parts of the tourist industry have taken a public stand against child prostitution — are certainly positive, they are not particulary effective. While the aforementioned conditions exist, people will find places to buy and sell sex.

Criminals across the region have taken advantage of this environment, from local gang members acting as pimps to major organizations such as Mexican cartel the Zetas expanding into international sex trafficking — although smaller networks control much of the trade throughout Latin America. Human trafficking is now estimated to be the second biggest earner for organized criminals in Central America after drug trafficking.

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