Jineteras and jineteros: You will hear these terms a lot in Cuba. Over the last 20
years, they have become part of the culture of the country. A thorough explanation
of the subtleties of their meanings would be very lengthy. I will present a brief over-
view. For more details you can browse the internet or simply ask a local Cuban.
The word jinetero roughly translates in English to “jockey.” Fundamentally, jineteros
are Cubans who earn a living or glean extra money from tourists through illegal or
semi-legal economic activity. While many tourists will simply lump everything to-
gether and refer to these Cubans as prostitutes, that generalization is misleading
and often inaccurate. While prostitution can be a part of the equation, it often is
Jineteros can be men who approach tourists to sell cigars, liquor, drugs, counterfeit
or stolen goods, or facilitate the brokering of sexual services. In addition they can
broker taxi and other transportation services or help tourists find accommodations.
Cubans who work independently, selling souvenirs, or who spend their day solicit-
ing money, clothes, or other items from tourists are also generally referred to as
jineteros. As you can see, while the term can refer to the selling or brokering of
sex, it does not specifically mean that these individuals are prostitutes or pimps, or
that sex is a main part of their business.
The term jinetera is generally reserved specifically for a woman who is a prostitute
or earns money by providing some sort of escorting service. This can sometimes
only involve accompaniment and not actual sex. Unlike in western culture, there is
not a huge stigma attached to female sex workers in Cuba.
Contrary to what some people may claim, jineteros are not all hustlers, gangsters
or violent criminals. Often they are simply regular citizens who are in desperate
need of money and turn to shady practices in its pursuit. While some people con-
sider jineterismo a sign of the degradation of core Cuban values, others point out
that gray or black market businesspeople are present in all societies and in Cuba,
especially, their development was spurred by poor economic conditions which
forced many to enter this line of work in order to survive. Due to government crack-
downs in the last few years, and Cuba's improving economy, there has been a sig-
nificant drop in jinetero and jinetera activity although you are still likely to encounter
it in tourist-heavy areas.