Cuban Snipers

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Things are pretty tough around here lately, what with the new economic regulations driving prices up, the cash-strapped out, and the sane a little crazy (you heard it here first). It’s all a bit wild west at the moment, with Cubans frenetically feeding on nascent capitalism, tasting the fruits as it were – some bitter and unexpected, to be sure. But I’ll leave all that to a future post.

We’re also in the throes of summer, which influences the Cuban state of mind in ways even I still don’t understand. On my side of the Straits it’s brutally hot, the mosquitoes are nasty and dogged, and tempers are running unusually short.

When it gets like this, when the hole feels so deep I have to will myself to stop digging, I go to Coppelia for 4-cent scoops of ice cream or head to a theater for an 8-cent movie. The AC combined with 2 hours of unadulterated English (see note 1) always seem to soothe what ails me; no matter that I’m alone. Travel, dining, moviegoing – I have no problem flying solo.

I’ve been going to the movies alone since I moved to Havana. It’s the sweet-sounding English that jacks me, surely, but it’s also privation: I couldn’t afford $10 tickets in my hometown of New York (a city which hasn’t seen a bargain matinee since the days of Spaldeens and Phil ‘The Scooter’ Rizzuto). So when I discovered Havana’s faded movie palaces with cheap screenings day and night I did a little jig of joy.

Then I became hip to the tiradores and that joy turned to dread.

My first introduction was at a showing of Moulin Rouge. As I marvelled at Nicole Kidman’s pipes, the guy two rows away started pumping his pinga as if his life or libreta depended on it. Taken aback and a wee bit shocked – this wasn’t the Times Square of my youth after all, with its peep shows and porn, this was mainstream Havana, population: tiny – I moved to a row far, far away, plopping down beside a couple; they shot me a sympathetic look during the next well-lit scene.

Not long after my public masturbatory cherry was popped, it happened again, this time during a showing of Schindler’s List. Jacking off to Kidman in fishnets I can understand. But stroking the Pope to scenes of genocide? This demanded stronger measures.

‘¡OYE! What are you doing? Quit it or get lost, man!’ I said loud enough for everyone to hear.

Public shame: never fails.

I started to wonder, though: had I’d stumbled upon a shadowy cubano habit and hobby that was destined to ruin my moviegoing experience? The next time it happened, I decided to consult an expert. As soon as I sensed the rythmic jiggle nearby, I strode from the theater to the lobby, where the ticket taker was having her nails done.

“Amor, I just wanted to let you know there is a disagreeable man doing disagreeable things in the theater.”

“Really?! That’s weird. I didn’t see any of our regulars come in today.”


“Sure, the regular tiradores. We always seat people as far away from them as possible, but I didn’t see any come in today.”

This was deeper and seedier than I’d expected. After years of going to the movies alone and observing Cuban society ufrom within, I now know this is a major diversion. And not only in theaters – guys are masturbating in parks and bushes, at the beach, and at least once that I saw, on a moving bicycle. Sure, Havana is super-sexed in general, but that’s only part of it. The other part, I think, is the overcrowding and housing crisis, meaning many private acts occur in public.


During one memorable film festival, I had just settled comfortably into my seat in the coverted juror’s section of the theater. Serving on a jury is a gas for many reasons, but the preferred seating perk was especially meaningful to me. The single man sitting two rows up, therefore, concerned me not at all.

The lights went down, the titles came up and we were off! Unfortunately, 10 minutes later, the guy in front of me starts getting off in his way, making all manner of furtive movements in his lap, rustling a plastic bag as a ruse. At first I thought he was just extracting something tricky from his noisy plastic sack, but the movement was too rhythmic, too prolonged.

‘How dare he!’ I thought. ‘Greasing the weezer in the juror’s section!’

Again, public shame was in order.

Compañero! WHAT are you doing?!” I boomed in a voice magnified by the dark.

The guy whipped around, panic-stricken.

“Connie?!” he asked, aghast (see note 3).

“Frank?!” I rasped, not sure I’d seen right. “¿Qué haces chico?” I asked my friend and co-juror Frank Padrón.

“Nothing! What did you think?”

We still joke about this case of mistaken mastubatory identity, but I swear Frank was rustling that bag for an awfully long while….


Some time has passed since I’ve been to the movies solo, but things are rough in my neck of the woods you’ll remember and this drove me back. Perusing the listings in search of a little frivolity to take my mind off things, I hit upon a Natalie Portman vehicle called Sin Compromiso. I headed out…

It was a 6:00 showing which attracts an odd mix of tiradores, drunks, and people who just can’t quite face home after a day’s work. There were only four of us in the theater as the lights went down and the English title came up: No Strings Attached, underneath which was the Spanish title: Sexo Sin Compromiso. Somehow, the listing I’d consulted had omitted that all-important ‘sexo’.

With that one little word I knew I was in for it. When I saw Ashton Kutcher, Natalie’s masturbatory-worthy co-star (if you like them well scrubbed), I knew I was in deep. These two hotties were going to have some heavy sexo sin compromiso and the tiradores were going to have a field day. I prayed it wasn’t NC-17.

The movie was terrible, but the theater remained surprisingly, refreshingly masturbator-free.

Fluke or sea change? I’ll let you know next go ‘round.


1. Some readers might be surprised to learn that Hollywood blockbusters and US/European indie films are primarily what Havana theaters show (plus Cuban films). Cubanos are raging movie buffs and so have the requisite disdain for dubbing, meaning foreign movies in theaters are subtitled.

2. This isn’t limited to movies: before I came to Havana, I’d never been to the ballet, had been to only a handful of jazz clubs, and finally had to forego concerts altogether since where I’m from they are prohibitively expensive for the working poor.

3. I’ve always hated it when people call me Connie – it’s not my name after all – but Spanish speakers get a pass since Conner is hard to pronounce, not to mention remember.


Filed under Americans in cuba, Cuban customs, Cuban idiosyncracies, Cuban phrases, Expat life, Living Abroad

54 responses to “Cuban Snipers

  1. ñ’l carajo…me da verguenza ajena este post, y aunque es una realidad que no nos gustaria…la realidad es un dato. Suerte con tus proximas peliculas!!!

  2. Punetas y pajusos- not exactly the New Socialist Caribbean Man Fidel envisioned is my guess. Of course, el Caballo has always had his pick of the young lovelies of Cuba, so what would he know?
    Quite on the mark and disturbing, Conner. Thanks for having the courage to print it and bring this problem out into the light.
    A follow up might be the groping which occurs on public transport in Cuba?

    • Not sure what my post has to do w Fidel, but it will probably help my SEO – jajaja!

      I’ve been on every sort of public trans here and have been ‘groped’ (there’s more general frissage going on than outright groping) once: a big hand on my bony nalga. I used the public outing technique telling the guy to get his hand of my ass! Worked like a charm!

  3. shane

    very interesting report,..never ever seen or heard of that happening over here (frankly, hope that I never do). As you may (or may not) know, I’ll be in habana , at the end of the year (first time),..I would like to meet a cuban woman, while I’m there, in order to experience the culture and the city and nights out, etc,…is that an easy thing to do?,….I mean not sex workers, but “ordinary” or regular women, that won’t think that I’m a creepy “hobbyist”
    your thoughts are welcome.

  4. Ha ha ha I had no idea what I was in for when I read the title of this post. Great piece though; sounds like the tiradores are driven more by good cinema than carnality. I’d always thought most film snobs were wankers anyway…

    • Yeah, I probably should have said somewhere that tirador means sniper or shartshooter in Spanish….true, that, about film snobs!

      By the way: love, love,love your handle! Thanks for stopping by

  5. love the way you describe it! you killed me with the rhythm part! lol!! you had me in stitches! reminded me of my college days as an art student in Montreal and to pass the time between classes we’d go to the old Seville…which slapping the monkey was also quite the sport there too! as well as the metro at night! I’m speechless at the public display though on a bike! wow! I visit Santiago de Cuba…gotta keep my eyes peeled from now on. 🙂

    • You bring up a good point D – this happens all over the world where darkness and penises converge. I have a feeling this is one of those things that once it is brought to your attention, you start noticing it everywhere (eg in Stgo de Cuba). Happy travels

  6. MarkG

    Great blog. One of my faves.

    Very much in the vein of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez! His books sometimes beggar belief.

    I spent a month out there a few years back circumnavigating the island on Viazul tourist buses and staying at casa particulares (or in some cases peculiars!). It could get quite challenging as I found Cuba to be quite ambiguous. I never realy sussed the place out and so must go back.

    I am interested to know:
    1. how an American can stay there, like yourself, for the long term? I am from the UK and could only get a one month visa. Is it because you are reporting on Cuban healthcare?

    2. Also how does a tourist/traveller get their hands on Cuban pesos? I did resent the two tier prices on the island.

    3. how are you able to compile and publish a blog from Cuba with such limited access to internet?

    Sorry for all the questions. Many thanks for your help.

    Hasta la victoria siempre!

    • Hi Mark. Thanks for writing in w such encouraging words (some readers limit themselves to admonishing me to ‘learn how to write’). For those interested in the details of living here, I suggest clicking on the interviews Ive given to various expat sites (the ex pat badges on the right hand sidebar). NB: every situation is different for every individual who resides in Cuba – it’s a patchwork of ‘resolving’ bureaucratic mechanisms and such and so there is no ‘one way.’ Regular tourists receive 30 days stay, renewable for another 30 days (except Canadians who receive 6 months!)

      – Im a temporary resident (like a green card). It has nothing to do w covering health care and everything to do w my (legal) marriage.

      – Cuban pesos are available everywhere – from the Cadeca (currency exchange at the airport) to the little cafeterias throughout the city (you pay w CUC, they’ll give you change in pesos cubanos). The two tier system is the strategy many vulnerable places are employing to leverage their paltry resources to earn revenue. Many vacation destination places (hawaii, the seychelles) that survive off tourism have to institute this two tier system – otherwise, their citizens would never be able to afford anything in their hometown/country/island. Relatedly, these places usually have very few resource streams and need to make a profit off tourism. It has to do with sustainability, equity and sovereignty. Do you think you are entitled to all the things the Cuban govt subsidises for its citizens? And aren’t you heartened that part of every cent you spend in Cuba goes towards those subsidies in one form or another? Im not sure I understand why you would resent it?

      – maintaining the blog, (AND building and maintaining an iapp don’t forget!) is a complete pain in the ass, totally frustrating and slow.

    • and so it goes, as Ive said. this is an excerpt describing exactly what Im describing, by a Cuban writer (in Spanish). And very instructive it is: women who like getting these guys off are jamalonas, how it happens in the bus, etc etc. Thanks for this Caney.

      Funny that we’re writing about the same thing – I guess that means Im ‘aplatanada’ – gone native!

  7. Earlier this year I spent three months studying Spanish at the university in Santiago de Cuba. One of my fellow students was a young Canadian woman exchange student. She went to Havana for a few days and, whilst there, went to see the new Cuban/Spanish film “Afinidades”, which I have also seen and which contains some very graphic sex scenes. Her experience was exactly the same as yours. What particularly surprised her was that these guys were doing it quite brazenly, not in the furtive manner that you might imagine.

  8. I’m so impressed at your perseverance! I know how challenging internet access can be in Cuba…luckily one of my friend’s husband is a doctor so it’s almost a daily access – but slooowww dial up.

    Well…I’ll certainly be your gal in Stgo de Cuba if you want 😛
    I will be getting my HTC phone soon and will absolutely be adding your apps to it and will be going to Havana in 2012….first time! Will so take you out for dinner!

    • Thanks D. It is really great to hear that people appreciate how hard it is to do what I do here (living here is trial enough, sabes?). It’s hard enough to write sometimes, but then with the tech difficulties on top of it…oy! Keep on truckin!

  9. OMG my jaw is on the ground!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t believe that this happens! So so so gross. I’m also shocked that they play Hollywood movies in Cuba!

    • On TV, in cinemas, pirated DVDs – Cuba is awash in Hollywood. True Grit, The Kings Speech, the Black Swan – you name it, we got it. Also, Im pretty sure cinema masturbation happens all over the world (see comment about Montreal) I know it happens in Havana and NY at least. Anyone else have anecdotal evidence?

  10. Totally agree with Danika; the bike thing is amazing. To be honest, if you can pull that off (boom boom), more power to you.

    I never experienced this, but apparently the Barcelona tiradores are all about parks and forests.

    Glad you like the name!

  11. lol! i can’t even ride no hands on my bike! so ya more power to ya!! must be some sight to see though!
    I love your updates Conner!

  12. Oh, good lord, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Love that the people working there even know about it – clearly it’s something they just can’t stop. Yikes. Definitely would not want to be directly behind one of these guys.

  13. Val

    I witnessed it once on the beach in Holguin. A lifeguard openly enjoyed himself while looking at topless European women. I assumed he had too much to drink and “classified” this as an exception rather than the norm. The women pretended to be oblivious. How do Cuban women react?

    • I haven’t had much experience checking how las cubanas react, although if you read spanish and go to the link provided by Caney, you’ll learn that there are folks out there (women as well as men, I imagine) who get off on those getting off on them.

      Just a side note to other readers: although Cuba is crazy Sexy, cuban women do not sunbathe topless or nude, so this is incredibly novel for cuban men (no excuse and shame on that lifeguard!) Once at a very well known nude beach (used to be foreigners only but we had a chance to go when they opened up domestic tourism), all of us were given an orientation about the possibility of seeing “nudies” during our stay and not to be alarmed…

  14. tell me more about the two tier economy in Hawaii, please. Having been married to a native born hawaiian for 11 years (of japanese extraction), and with many trips there, I only ever saw the US dollar used as currency. mahalo,

    • Your wife is (or rather was – a finer point which I would love to learn more about: what happens when they move away: do local prices still apply, especially when person in question looks/talks/walks local kine style?) what’s known as kamaaina, which means she lives on Hawaii. Applies to all residents whether they were born there or not. Show your HI drivers license and theater tickets. hotel rooms, tour packages and scads of other goods and services are deeply discounted. So while it is only the USD that circulates, prices are differentiated (ie way more affordable) between locals and visitors.

    • Thanks Caney. It’s very interesting that I, as an immigrant/interloper, am writing about the same thing as some cubans. Funny, too, the difference in angle. As I recently told a young friend of mine trying to weigh his options and make his way in this world: it’s all in the spin.

  15. Caney

    Well, you write about what you see. If I’m not mistaken, you’ve been living in Havana for quite a few years now. I remember seeing tiradores for the first time in one of my first trips back in 94 (both in the cinema and on the Malecón) and talking about it… Does it make me mor “Cuban” or… more aware of my environment?? ; )

    • I can’t comment on anyone else’s experience (i.e. ‘does it make me more cuban or more aware of my environment’) but convergences of themes like this reinforce my credibility as chronicler, and by this, I’m heartened.

      • Caney

        Why not? I comment on yours… that’s what the replies on your blog are about, right?

        … and your credibility as a chronicler goes beyond that, believe me! 😉

      • This is why the internet is a crappy communicator: I meant that I can’t comment on someone’s acculturation experience. However, it does seem to me that the idea that someone can be ‘more cuban’ is moot: only Cubans can be Cubans, period.

  16. quepasa

    One should think that with all the sexual freedom and practise there should be no need to wank off at every opportunity, but no. Male wanking is so common that I have stop being shocked or annoyed long time ago. Off course when they are many at a time, close to me, I still utter a few words of discontent. At the beach you have all the maturation in the water,…. get used to it. I have even experienced the husband/father wanking off at me with his wife and children paying in the sand close to him. Es Cuba, no the asombres !

  17. Lena Hope

    In my experience Cuban women are generally more peeved at / ticked off by tiradores than they are scandalised, shocked, appalled or panicked. I’ve seen every reaction from a shrug of the shoulders, to a furious rant, even to a cackling giggle or a full-fledged belly laugh. But yes, tiradores are VERY well known in cinema spaces – and no Cuban woman I’ve ever met was inclined to view their activities as something positive.

    However, the generally lower level of fear in Cuba (vs the US or UK or most urban scpaces I know) meant that the women’s disdain or disgust didn’t segue straight into fear of rape or sexual assault.

    The tiradores themselves? Who knows what they’re thinking … but I found many Cuban guys just thought they were a big joke, nothing to get upset about EVER.

    Of course there are flashers / exhibitionists / public masturbators everywhere in the world, but it really DOES seem to me to be commoner (and more likely to be laughed off) in Cuba than elsewhere.

    Very, very delicate cultural waters here, but I do wonder whether – apart maybe from the problems of finding anywhere to be alone with a real partner to do the nasty – Cuban childcare norms might have something to do with the prevalence of this habit? Remember all that fuss during the Elian saga when his grandmothers, visiting from Cuba, were alleged to have asked him if his pinguita was getting bigger – and even to see it? (I don’t know whether that ever really happened, but I’ve certainly seen my share of toddler boys being joked and laughed with about their tiny equipments….) Logic suggests that if you’ve spent your childhood with numerous female relatives seeing, touching and praising your thing, it might be harder to do without that stimulus once you’re adolescent or adult. Most psych studies of flashers that I know about talk a lot about the act being more of a giant ego trip, or approval seeking, than a wish to scare or hurt the unwilling glimpsers! and certainly there’s no shortage of other more ‘direct’ sexual interchanges.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Lena. You’re right – shocked and appalled are two reactions rarely seen in Cuba – and certainly not when it comes to solo sex acts.

      Rape, in my opinion, is not a crime based on sex, but instead a violent crime and so is unrelated to flashing or public displays of self pleasure.

      Never heard that thing about Elian’s abuelitas, but I find it very very hard to believe based on my knowledge of Cuban grandmothers and the melodrama of that particular case and political currency it represented. I know many young Cuban boys and men and it has not been my experience that female family members are seeing, touching and praising their genitals. It seems to me, though Im no expert!, that if you received praise throughout your childhood, you wouldn’t feel driven to seek that approval from strangers? Instead, you would be a Casanova, reaffirming how great your pinguita is through # of conquests?

      Regardless, it’s complex and is certainly not limited to Cubans, as you astutely observe.

      • Maria Victoria

        Elian’s grandmother wasn’t talking about his ‘pinguita’, she was commenting on the size of his testicles which are just a sign of virility. It is neither a sexual nor an incestuous comment as it was commonly perceived on US media at the time. I think the biggest problem here has to do with lack of privacy at home. But at the same time I think that these people must have some sort of mental problem – as do many abroad who also have similar inclinations. They are just more prominent in Cuba because people are less outraged, police are less willing to arrest/prosecute them, and so they feel more freedom to wack one out in public. I think the most prominent site for the pajusos is in the hill past the roundabout of La Avenida de los Presidentes before you get to the Arts faculty. Lots of big trees for them to hide behind and watch passersby. Also known as la loma de los pajusos.

  18. Caney

    “I know many young Cuban boys and men and it has not been my experience that female family members are seeing, touching and praising their genitals.”

    It has been my experience with ALL male babies… and I’ve seen a few…

    • quepasa

      Yes, I must agree with this observation. Not just small boys, but also ten-agers and younger men of the family where the female members, la mama, or la tía, or la abuela etc gives commentaries about his “equipment”, and sometimes touch it . I have on occasions asked the guys about this, to me, “improper behaviour”, but they just reply : ” ellas lo hacen con cariño”, porque nos quieren ” !! Well, well

      • Any Cubans here want to weigh in on mothers, aunts, or grandmothers commenting and sometimes touching genitals “with affection, because they love us?” (translation of the last above)?

  19. viajera

    conner, please excuse / delete if posting links to other sites here on your blog is bad manners, but by sheer coincidence there was an interesting piece published online today with a much bleaker analysis of the causes of this sort of behaviour in Cuba … the author relating it very very strongly to a sense of ‘social impotence’ (and above all feelings of intense ECONOMIC inferiority) among young Cuban men, which got particularly acute during the periodo especial … hmmm, interesting.

    (and my apologies again if posting links here is out of line)

    • on the contrary – thanks for the link!

      An interesting snapshot of the ‘special period’ of the 90s (when I first visited Cuba) but I totally disagree with the analysis that “misery/lack of cubanas causes public masturbation.” Regardless, this is a red herring since the writer switches from analyzing the reality of tiradores to them ogling foreigners – two different issues – when he states “What was the cause of that pathetic plague? It wasn’t only because of the misery and the blackouts, but the exodus of the attention of young Cuban women. Their attention became directed toward foreigners, the sole objective possibility of escape.”

    • quepasa

      Interesting article, and in the end it describes well on of the more distributing tendency in young Cuban sexual practise: The amount of young heterosexual males that have sex with gay men. I have heard some shocking figures, but will not get more into the subject here.

      • QP: Ive written widely about LGBT health issues in MEDICC Review and an extensive report on HIV/AIDS for Oxfam and agree homophobia could be a factor for some tiradores: they have real live men to get off on in the theaters/streets/wherever. Thanks for pointing out that part of the article. However, these wouldn’t be heterosexual males, but more accurately what is called in Cuba and other areas tackling sexual-cultural issues men who have sex with men (MSM).

  20. johnabbotsford

    To me, one of the saddest visions during that unforgettable period was when “jerkers” would appear anywhere. It was a weird epidemic. Once while I was reading a book at the beach in Bacuranao, I suddenly realized that four men were seated around me, as if covering my four cardinal points. I don’t know if they knew each other, but each one sat there masturbating in complete peace.

  21. jay

    Have been to cinema many times across the street from capitolio and have experienced much of the same, another time a young guy started kissing me while seated and many times I am moving seats about 6 times during movie just to avoid tiradores. Lately going to cine less as they are charging me 2cuc not the 2 pesos as before.

    • Hey Jay – That would be the Payret – probably tirador central (after El Lido). But a man kissing you?! that’s kinda surprising. Also, I’ve never been asked to pay in CUC, nor been asked to show my carnet to get in paying in pesos cubanos…..odd.

  22. coppeliafan

    Studied abroad in Havana fall 2009, when there were far less American students about than there are now as i here…

    Your post directly reminded me of a similar experience. I was sitting with a male friend (american as well) when a man sat one seat away from me on the other side, in an otherwise empty theater. After a few minutes there was some curious motion…my friend and i immediately switched seats and the man left. This was mostly disturbing because he hadn’t even tried to be sneaky about it! Looking back it is funny although at the time I was not thrilled.

  23. Gabriel Grenot

    Hi Conner: I think it’s really brave and smart of you to talk about this thing.
    I’m from Santiago de Cuba living in San Jose California and definitely whole Cuba have tiradores all over the place as well as USA , Europe, South America every where. I have found this type of situation in New York , San Francisco (OMG) , Virgin island, Mexico ni se diga they are some of the best. but what make Cuba tiradores so peculiar it’s exactly what you refer to. it became a regular thing. I even remember when I was a litle boy my mama was always concern when i was in the theater , yes even in litle kids movie theater these thing happen.
    Well anyway I hope you get a better experience because Cuba and the Cubans have better thing to share than tirarte
    mis Saludo

  24. Brenta52

    Goodness, this answers some questions! Was not quite sure what to think when it happened 4 times in the space of 2 hours at the hotel pool…3 different guys, all next to each other, rotating whilst avoiding the security guards. Tried the public shaming, but don’t have enough spanish to be completely effective! Apparently, I will have to learn. Thanks for the heads up, did not know I would be consulting your blog about this one!

  25. Pingback: ‘To Don’t List’ for Emigrating Cubans | Here is Havana

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