"There is truly no prostitution healthier than Cuba's," said Fidel Castro in 1992. Or so claims the Toronto Star. But did he really?
Not at all. Castro actually said, "There is truly no tourism healthier than Cuba's."
This just scratches the surface of the fact-free reporting of the Star in its new series The Ugly Canadians, an exposé of a supposed epidemic of Canadians travelling to Cuba for child sex tourism.
"Canadians are travelling to Cuba in surprising numbers to sexually exploit young people," the first article in the series says. Just how surprising are these numbers? Well, they can't say. The same article admits that they don't actually know, because the Canadian government doesn't reveal the number of Canadians prosecuted in Cuba for sex crimes.
The only facts they can point to are in a 2011 RCMP report that lists Cuba as "a top destination in the Americas" for sex tourism. No, not the top. One of them. In the Americas. And where does Cuba rank in this list? The article doesn't say.
So why have they decided to highlight sex tourism to Cuba instead of, say, the actual top destination?
Why do the Cubans quoted happen to be a "dissident lawyer" and a "dissident blogger"?
Why did the article print a fabricated pro-prostitution quote attributed to Castro?
The series on Cuban sex tourism is not being published by the Star alone. Its partner in the series, El Nuevo Herald, is the Spanish-language sister publication of the Miami Herald, known for editorializing against the Cuban government and for employing journalists paid by the U.S. government to disseminate anti-Cuban propaganda.
Could this joint series actually be a deliberate attempt to stigmatize the Cuban tourism industry, a backbone of the Cuban economy? A modern-day, liberal version of the "red scare"? In 2004, President Bush similarly warned about child sex tourism to justify his government's travel restrictions on Cuba, without any evidence to suggest the problem is more prevalent on the island.
With close to one million visitors a year, Canadians are the primary market for the Cuban tourism industry, a major source of funding for the Cuban economy. If anyone wanted to target Cuban tourism, the Canadian market would be the place to start.
Whatever the intention of playing fast and loose with the facts, it raises questions about the editorial influence of the Herald on this series, and whether the remaining articles will be based on evidence or just conjecture of opponents of the Cuban government.