How Bush 'sexed up' the sex tourism dossier

Campaign News | Tuesday, 20 July 2004

Quote was taken out of context, report's author says

Student whose paper on Castro was used in a speech is 'annoyed.' He says Bush misconstrued the Cuban leader's stance

From the Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON July 20 - Like many scholars, Charles Trumbull hoped that one day his work would attract attention in high places. So you might think he'd be thrilled that someone in the White House used one of his research papers to draft a speech for President Bush last week.

But he's not.

In a hotel conference room in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, Bush told law enforcement officials that Fidel Castro was brazenly promoting sex tourism to Cuba.

"The dictator welcomes sex tourism. Here's how he bragged about the industry," Bush said. "This is his quote: 'Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world.' "

Asked about the source for the quote, White House officials provided a link to a 2001 paper, written by Trumbull, on the website of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

At the time he wrote the paper, Trumbull was a Dartmouth College undergraduate, and the paper won a prize from the association as the best student paper of the year. Now a law student at Vanderbilt University, Trumbull does not remember the source for the wording of the Castro quote, which he did not footnote.

"I don't know why I don't have a footnote for that," said Trumbull, 24, who is clerking this summer for a federal judge in Puerto Rico. "That was before I was in law school and understood that you have to footnote everything."

Trumbull says the quote was probably a paraphrase of comments the Cuban leader made in 1992, which have been oft-repeated and seem to have taken on a life of their own.

But regardless of the exact wording, Trumbull says the president's speech misconstrued the meaning, which he says should have been clear from his paper.

"It shows that they didn't read much of the article," Trumbull said in a telephone interview.

According to Trumbull, who conducted field research in Cuba, prostitution boomed in the Caribbean nation after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, providing an important source of currency for the Cuban economy. Castro, who outlawed prostitution when he took power in 1959, initially had few resources to combat it. But beginning around 1996, Cuban authorities began to crack down on the practice.

Although prostitution still exists, Trumbull said, it is far less visible, and it would be inaccurate to say the government promotes it.

Even when Castro made the remarks, Trumbull said, he was not boasting about Cuba's prostitutes as sex workers.

"Castro was merely trying to emphasize some of the successes of the revolution by saying 'even our prostitutes our educated,' " Trumbull said. "Castro was trying to defend his revolution against negative publicity. He was in no way bragging about the opportunities for sex tourism on the island."

On Monday, administration officials acknowledged that they did not have a source for the wording of the president's citation other than Trumbull's paper. A White House spokeswoman defended the inclusion, arguing it expressed an essential truth about Cuba.

"The president's point in citing Castro's quote was to highlight Castro's morally corrupt attitude to human trafficking," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said. She pointed to two other instances in which Castro boasted of the education level of Cuba's prostitutes; in neither case was the context a direct promotion of sex tourism.

The speech "was vetted the same way all the president's speeches are vetted," Buchan said, declining to provide details.

A State Department official familiar with the matter said the Cuba material was added to the speech at the last minute. He said the White House contacted the department no more than a day before the speech and asked for material on human trafficking in Cuba. A quick search of the Internet turned up Trumbull's paper; the official said there was inadequate time to find the original source for Castro's quote.

The State Department official later found the original quote, which he acknowledged was much less succinct than the president's version.

"There are hookers, but prostitution is not allowed in our country," Castro told Cuba's National Assembly in July 1992, according to a translation by the British Broadcasting Corp. "There are no women forced to sell themselves to a man, to a foreigner, to a tourist. Those who do so do it on their own, voluntarily?. We can say that they are highly educated hookers and quite healthy, because we are the country with the lowest number of AIDS cases."

Trumbull described himself as "annoyed" by the use the White House made of his project. "It is really disheartening to see bits of my research contorted, taken out of context, and used to support conclusions that are contrary to the truth," he said.

Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was one thing for an undergraduate to include an unsubstantiated quotation in a college paper, but it was another for the White House to include one in a presidential speech.

"That's incredibly sloppy, and it shows that when it comes to Cuba policy, they are willing to cut huge corners," Sweig said.

Bush's standing with Cuban Americans - a crucial segment of supporters in the battleground state of Florida - has taken a hit in recent months. Critics have accused Bush of reneging on promises to crack down harder on the Castro regime. Some Republican state lawmakers even wrote the White House, suggesting the president risked losing support among Cuban Americans if he did not act.

In response, the Bush administration this spring unveiled rules limiting Cuban Americans' packages and visits to Cuba, which officials said would hurt Castro. But some Cuban Americans say the new rules punish them by restricting their contact with relatives.

"They took a hit on their Cuba policy, so [the president's remark on sex tourism] was an effort to make up lost ground," Sweig said.

HAVANA - The Cuban people expressed outrage and fury at President Bush on Saturday after he accused Fidel Castro of turning the island into a major spot for sex tourism and child prostitution.

"I've never heard anything as pig-filthy as that," said Marta Rojas, a celebrated Cuban author. "The nose of Pinocchio" - as some Cubans call Bush - "is so long it can't get any longer."

On Friday July 16, Bush told a Tampa Bay, Florida, crowd that Cuba's sex business was once again booming. He said it was helping to prop up Fidel Castro's "corrupt government."

"The dictator welcomes sex tourism," Bush said. According to a recent study, he said, Cuba has "replaced Southeast Asia as a destination for paedophiles and sex tourists."

Some Cubans wonder what country Bush is talking about.

"We don't exploit children for sex," said Johana Brito, 18, a computer sciences student. "It's a lie."

To back up his claim, Bush cited the Protection Project, a human rights research institute at Johns Hopkins University. In a three-page report posted on its Internet site, the group said that while "little information is available," Cuba is "increasingly reported to be a major destination for sex tourists." That finding was based mostly on newspaper clippings, most from the 1990s, one going back to 1994.

Cuba developed a media-hyped reputation as a sex tourist destination in the early `90s when the current travel boom started, but action by the government and the rising prosperity of Cubans has now altered the situation.

"There was a significant fall off in sex tourism throughout the country," said Christopher Baker, author of "Moon Handbooks: Cuba."

Before the 1959 revolution, under the control of the mafia, the flesh trade thrived in Havana. Sex shows and porn palaces flourished. As many as 100,000 prostitutes are thought to have been working in Havana during the batista era.

All that changed with the revolution and since then there has been no sex industry in Cuba.

There are no pornographic magazines on sale in Cuba, nor are there advertisements for sex services in the newspapers.

Following the tourist booom of the 1990s, there has been an increase in casual prostitution where young women consort with foreigners in order to obtain scarce luxeries.

To combat this, the laws against pimping have been strengthened, foreigners were prosecuted if they were caught with minors and the government, through the women's NGO the Federation of Cuban Women, has instituted a nationwide campaign aimed at educating young women not to seek favours from tourists in return for sex.

The result has been a huge reduction in the occurence of prostitution and now Cuba is no longer attracting the sex tourist.

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