Between 1840 and 1920, Cuba abolished slavery, fought two wars of
independence, and was occupied by the United States before finally
becoming an independent republic. Tiffany A. Sippial argues that
during this tumultuous era, Cuba's struggle to define itself as a
modern nation found focus in the social and sexual anxieties
surrounding prostitution and its regulation.
Sippial shows how prostitution became a prism through which Cuba's
hopes and fears were refracted. Widespread debate about
prostitution created a forum in which issues of public morality,
urbanity, modernity, and national identity were discussed with
consequences not only for the capital city of Havana but also for
the entire Cuban nation.
Republican social reformers ultimately recast Cuban
prostitutes--and the island as a whole--as victims of colonial
exploitation who could be saved only by a government committed to
progressive reforms in line with other modernizing nations of the
world. By 1913, Cuba had abolished the official regulation of
prostitution, embracing a public health program that targeted the
entire population, not just prostitutes. Sippial thus demonstrates
the central role the debate about prostitution played in defining
republican ideals in independent Cuba.