Cubadave's Sex Tourism Empire in Jeopardy
David Strecker is a skinny former softball pitcher who lives in a modest Key West duplex and maintains a healthy head of fine, sandy-colored hair. He prefers tank tops that show off his muscular biceps. He is also a connoisseur of Caribbean prostitutes and has slept with more than 2,500 women under age 25. He has no plans to stop. His scheme, though, is complicated by time, possibly the only cruel mistress Strecker has ever encountered.
This self-described sex addict is 62 years old.
At that age, it isn't easy to keep up with two or three women a day for weeks at a time. Chemical assistance is required. Strecker downs estrogen blockers daily, injects his buttocks with testosterone monthly, and consumes Viagra as the situation requires. A grueling P90X regimen is obsessively adhered to, and a bench press occupies the position of a TV set in his living room. The excessively tanned senior might eat a chicken caesar salad if you really goad him, but he generally subsists on protein bars and 5-hour Energy drinks. Sex might be Strecker's only vice; the native Minnesotan doesn't drink or smoke in order to ensure maximum performance with his chicas.
This lifelong bachelor keeps his toilet seat up and eschews the use of dishes, excepting a bedazzled gold pimp cup. His bedroom looks as if it were decorated by a feral teenage boy: A New York Yankees comforter is the sole object to break the monotony of the floor-to-ceiling nudie pics that cover his lime-green walls. These are no Playboy centerfolds, though — they are graphic, basically anatomical photos of the women Strecker has been with "at least ten times," he says.
In his earlier years, Strecker was elected to the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame. Now he goes by Cubadave — an alias so central to his being that he even emblazons it on credit cards and screen-prints it on T-shirts. His eponymous blog, which provides mostly logistical advice on locating the best prostitutes, is rabidly followed by thousands of male travelers from all walks of life. A typical post on Cubadave.com receives anywhere from 50 to 150 comments ranging from blatant hero worship ("Cuba Dave for president") to practical queries ("Dave, can you buy Viagra over the counter in Sosua?")
The blog readers' common interest is reclaiming their youth or feeling economically powerful in Sosua, a town on the northern Dominican coast. There, Strecker leads a large fraternity of such men from his headquarters, a beachside café that's been renamed in his honor.
Experts estimate thousands of men travel to the Dominican Republic each year for sex, although it's impossible to come up with a specific number. In much of the Caribbean and some of Latin America, prostitution is legal as long as a third party doesn't profit from it. Just recently, though, turf wars seem to have popped up in this multibillion-dollar industry. A 48-year-old sex tour leader from Brooklyn named Noah Goldberg was recently shot dead, gangland style, at a restaurant in Medellín, Colombia.
Strecker has had a different kind of trouble. This past October 30, customs officers detained him and confiscated his laptop, cell phone, and digital camera. The owner of a club he promotes in Sosua was thrown in jail.
So why does he choose to play the smiling spokesman of a seedy sexscape that was — until recently — kept under wraps? He thinks of himself as the good guy, a member of the fourth estate who helps men navigate international law and stay safe. He wants to make sure people traveling to Sosua know how to avoid being tricked into sleeping with an underage girl or falling in love with an enterprising hooker. He also thinks he's propping up the economy of an impoverished town and improving the lives of the people who live there. A story about a 9-year-old Haitian girl who was forced to sell a basket of bananas before heading to school each day proves to him that not all whoremongers are exploitative.
"Every morning, my friends and I would buy all the bananas and make her our guest for breakfast," he says.
But of course, one whose raison d'être is to sleep with hookers cannot be entirely selfless. His value to the men who monetize him and the ones who read his blog is that he doesn't hide behind a screen name like "DRGuy1." That's because Strecker loves exactly three things: softball, hard bodies, and himself.
"If you're having all the fun in the world and nobody knows about it," he says, "what fun is that?"
It used to be that Americans could get laid in Cuba for a Coke and a smile.
Sex tourism got its start there during Prohibition in the 1920s, when the island became a one-stop shop for free-flowing booze and women. The party paused briefly during the Great Depression but was revived when the Mafia took control of Cuba's tourism sector, erecting glitzy casinos and nightclubs such as the infamous Tropicana. Immediately after the 1959 revolution, Castro kicked out the Mob and sent the prostitutes to the fields to work.
After the Soviet Union fell and billions of dollars in subsidies disappeared, Castro let women walk the streets once more. Eager for tourists' dollars, he even invited Playboy to photograph a ten-page feature spread there in 1990. Suddenly, los yanquis flew in from Canada or Cincinnati (by way of Cozumel) to seek the services of a jinetera, which means "prostitute" in Cuban Spanish but also translates to "jockey."
By the turn of the millennium, the revolutionary had changed his mind yet again. The jineteras had become conspicuous consumers who pranced around in fashionable shoes with boomboxes on their shoulders and had become enemies of the Communist ideal. In January 1999, El Comandante gave a speech at the Karl Marx Theater announcing the jineteras would again be banished; many were detoured to rehabilitation camps along the way.
"It hurts too much that a country that has done so much to dignify women, that a foreigner can come to trick her, fill her with vices," Castro said, according to an account by the journalist Silvana Paternostro.
The next home for subtropical sex was Costa Rica. Guys would tell their wives they were headed to San José to do business, but omit the stuff about girls on the side. Over time, the country — an American-retiree destination — became saturated with older white men who had divorced their wives and decided to stay.
But as the country began producing microprocessors and wealth flowed in, the government started throwing out foreigners who ran websites about prostitution there. In one such case, the administrator of the site Ticaland.com was forced to move to Medellín and refocus his content on South America. There was no longer any place for sex travelers in search of a cheap getaway.
"Cuba ran its course, and Costa Rica ran its course," Cubadave says. "Now I wouldn't go there if they picked me up at the front door."
Then came Sosua, a beautiful beachfront town with a large bay on the Dominican Republic's north coast. The first pleasure seekers were gay men who began arriving a decade after the assassination of dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961, when the Gregorio Luperón International Airport was completed in Puerto Plata.
They would arrive in tour groups and stay in tidy hotels, some of which were run by Jews who had fled Europe after World War II. By the 1990s, heterosexuals were arriving on the white sand beaches in droves. Girls flocked to the sleepy town's streets, where they could make $50 an hour as opposed to $7 a day working a straight job.
"There's little doubt they can make more money in a few nights [selling themselves] than they can in a few months on a factory floor or working in a grocery store," says Denise Brennan, a Georgetown University professor and author of What's Love Got to Do With It?: Transnational Desires and Sex Tourism in the Dominican Republic.
More interesting, social media has entered the sex trade. Men now gossip on Facebook, where they "friend" both prostitutes and one another. Someone might stay at a hotel that shows up as a supermarket on his credit card bill, but then have no qualms about making lascivious public comments online. A man who identified himself as "Keith Williams" on Cubadave's Facebook page, for instance, had no problem publicly commenting "that is one tight girl and a lot of fun too" about a photo of a scantily clad hooker this past June.
There's also an entire cottage industry for e-books with titles such as Clueless Clyde Costa Rica Complete, Dances With Prostitutes, and Bang Colombia that retail between $3.99 and $9.99.
Many of the authors are difficult to track down, but those who run tours are slightly more accessible. One of the easier ones to find is Paul Ollariu. He's better known as Captain Paul, a guy who hawks trolley, bike, and snorkeling tickets in Key West by day. For a second business, he uses Facebook and other social media to advertise tours in Colombia that suggest the possibility of romance. In one video, Ollariu walks through the streets of Medellín while narrating: "I just like to show American men ages 30 to 60 to 70 that we can still live like we're 20. Come down here, date, dance, and smile. We'll get you started on a new way of life." In another, he rants about how there's nothing left for him in the United States, where many women are overweight.
He provides his phone number in his videos and encourages interested parties to contact him. But when questioned during a phone call, he turns defensive. "I'm not a [whore]monger," he says. "I think it's a very seedy side of Colombia, and I wish it wasn't practiced, but it is. There are nice girls down here and, absolutely, you can meet them just by walking down the street."
Three days after New Times called him last month, his Facebook group I Love Medellin was deleted and a rash of new videos appeared on his YouTube page that made no mention of girls.
Another gent who's easy to find is Jonesie, who has been the administrator of a message board called Monger Network since 2010. He doesn't have a problem with being called a "monger," because all of the women he does business with are older than 18 and are not being exploited, he says. He then adds that he sleeps with prostitutes as an alternative to North American relationships.
"It's a lifestyle choice," he says. "I respect those who choose other philosophies as long as they respect mine." Though he is the most active member of the 7,000 people who are part of his community, he always publishes under an alias and no photos exist of him online. He asked that his real name not be used in this article.
Cubadave Strecker, on the other hand, craves attention. When New Times visited his home this past October, he welcomed us in and spoke openly about his work. He even said he hopes to find a ghostwriter to compile his memoirs. He attaches photos of himself alongside busty babes to emails without prompting and offers in a second that he tips prostitutes with sacks of condoms collected from Key West gay health clinics.
Strecker writes matter-of-factly — but never profanely — about his exploits. Breasts, for instance, are referred to as "coconuts," and hookers are "best friends." Euphemisms abound. An example of his prose: "Well, things like this just don't happen every day, and seeing that I had already unloaded a couple of bullets earlier in the day and was now standing face to face with this one-of-a-kind beauty and in my pants was an empty gun, I didn't want to pass this up, but I knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I would much rather be 100 percent and fully loaded."
David Strecker grew up in northeast Minneapolis with an older brother named Doug and parents who never really traveled outside the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Strecker has no sisters — and notes that if he did, they wouldn't like him much anyway.
His father, Charles, had two bullets shot into his spine by a sniper during World War II. Charles taught his boys to play baseball, and Dave's mom, Pearl, was a strict disciplinarian. Pearl's own mom had abandoned her when she was a kid, so she was forced to take care of her young sister and never went to college. "There are people who see the glass as half-full and those who see it as half-empty," Cubadave says. "For her, the glass was half-empty her entire life."
Doug, now 64 years old and living in Hackensack, Minnesota, remembers his brother thusly: "Dave was not very much into school at all. I was the poster child, and he was the problem child."
But Dave was more of an innocent Midwesterner than an agitator. He never ran into trouble with the law, and recalls losing his virginity at age 19 to a girl who was having her period because he thought it meant she wouldn't get pregnant.
Both Strecker brothers took softball seriously in those days, competing in industrial leagues that led to national tournaments. Doug remembers being treated like an all-star during that golden decade. "You would go into a bar and never pay for a drink or into a restaurant and order lobster or steak and it would be paid for," he says.
The two traveled together to games across the country on weekends. Dave says he could pass out drunk on the sidewalk in those days and wake up the next morning to pitch. He liked strip joints and once even went to a male strip bar in Minneapolis and performed a routine in his softball uniform.
In 1981, he started traveling to the Virgin Islands during the winter. He thought the women there weren't very attractive, but he loved the weather in Saint Thomas. "I remember thinking, This is the place for me," he says. "I was immediately accepted by the younger guys who wanted to learn the game."
He traveled between the Virgin Islands and Minnesota while playing ball, but one by one, most of the other players traded their gloves for wedding bands. Not Dave, however. He lived modestly with "no overhead, no wife, no kids, no nothing."
He did have a relationship with a female softball pitcher named Laurie for about five years that almost led to marriage. He says it didn't work out because "responsibility never stuck to him."
Although Laurie still checks up on Dave's mom, who'll turn 99 in January and lives in a Minnesota nursing home, the former lovers are no longer in contact. She refuses to comment on their relationship. "I don't think it would be appropriate," she says.
By the 1990s, he was hosting a public access program called Let's Talk Softball and dating a pretty blond 18-year-old waitress named Erin. He was 41.
Erin's parents forced a breakup, Strecker recalls, and a few days later, in 1994, he moved to Key West on a lark. Soon depression set in. "This is not the place to meet the girl of your dreams, because all the losers of the world are down here," he says of Key West. "You've got two types of girls: drunks and crackheads. Finding a girl with a full set of teeth is an accomplishment."
But when he first boated to Cuba in 1995, he fell in love with the country. The guys wanted to talk baseball, and the jineteras considered sex a casual activity like eating a ham sandwich, he says. He was already planning the next trip before he pulled out of the Hemingway Marina. He ended up going back 54 times over the next decade. Neither the U.S. nor the Cuban Coast Guard, he says, bothered him.
In 2004, during one of his Cuba sojourns, in a place called Playa Jaimanitas, he met Hank Allen, then a student at Valencia Community College in Orlando. Allen recalls that Strecker would do things like approach a young girl walking with her mother on the street and ask if she was available. "He has no wife or kids or anything to lose," Allen says, "and other people who travel there do."
Allen had headed to the island on a field trip for his humanities class and ended up dropping out of school and staying until he ran out of cash — about six weeks. When he returned to the United States, Allen registered the website Cubadave.com and let Strecker post there.
Strecker was more concerned with attention than money. "I could be a professional photographer, and I've been complimented by everyone," he says. "You get proud of your work."
But soon the Bush administration cracked down on travel to Cuba. Strecker began looking for somewhere else to travel. Around that time, Daniel Caro, who lived in San José, began reading the Cubadave blog. He sent Strecker an email about monetizing his stories by taking advantage of social media links and toning down salaciousness.
"I told him he'd have a lot more reach if we could keep the language from being offensive," Caro remembers. "I told him we'd have to do it in a way that's acceptable for Facebook and social media."
The 30-something self-described science-fiction nerd and community college graduate had worked a high-stress IT job in Maryland before moving to Costa Rica, where he says he lived a more laid-back lifestyle. When the two finally met in person in San José, Caro began following Strecker around with a camera and microphone. Caro, who uses a pen name, didn't want to attach his name or image to anything related to sex tourism. Meanwhile, Strecker was more than open about his exploits on the photo blog.
The plan worked. Adventures of Cubadave was soon receiving almost 17,000 hits a week, according to their count. It wouldn't be long before more than 1,400 men were willing to be publicly associated with the blog's Facebook fan page. There were almost 5,000 email subscribers. Caro and Strecker have even written an e-book together, Cuba Dave's Guide to Sosua, Dominican Republic.
Simply put: If Caro is the brains of the operation, Cubadave is the brand.
"Daniel is the smartest guy when it comes to any sort of cyberwork," says Strecker, who jokes he'd probably be locked up if he didn't have Caro telling him where to draw the line with his offensive pictures. "He knows what will and will not show up on Google. He'll find any loophole and do that."
Why are men so receptive to Strecker, a Mister Rogers look-alike who can't keep it in his cardigan? Strecker says his subscribers are delighted to be in Sosua, where girls prance along the beach in thong bikinis while looking for companionship. Money is the only criterion for attraction. "They look over and see their wives eating potato chips on the couch," Strecker says of his audience. "Suddenly they're like, 'Yeah, I'll go.' "
Three years ago, Strecker began traveling monthly to the Dominican Republic, where a friend told him the cost of living was much lower than that of Costa Rica. He visited Rosa Salon & Spa, a shabby orange building with bars on its windows near a strip of beachfront hotels. According to owner Rosa Iris, he is always exceedingly friendly to the handful of women who work there giving massages and manicures.
Girls in the DR grow up brushing one another's hair and doing each other's nails, Iris says. There are also no jobs to be had in Sosua, where many of the girls become pregnant by age 15. Proffering skills learned in girlhood is often the only way they know how to make money as adults, although the competition there for tourist dollars is fierce.
Rosa's salon was what is known as a "jack shack" in monger terms. Often, after getting a haircut, Strecker says, he would take one of Rosa's girls into a backroom and have sex on a cot that was curtained off by a few hanging sheets. He spent a lot of money there. More important, though, he also brought many other customers.
The 23-year-old Rosa considers Strecker a godsend. "He started taking my photos and putting them in his online magazine, and then people started coming here and asking for me by name," she told New Times during a recent phone call. "People read it all over the world."
Only recently has the internet become available in Rosa's part of the world. She uses it to promote herself and to attract foreign clients. And because online access is so new, she says, she can do so without the prying eyes of older relatives.
Strecker says many of the girls at Rosa's Salon live a double life that comes back to haunt them when they eventually get married. "The problem that's happened to me is that you post these photos [of these girls] and do a story on them, and some guy comes and takes them away and wants it to go away," he says. "On the internet, it doesn't go away."
Strecker says he always asks permission to take photos of the working women in Sosua because he knows what the consequences could be for them if a boyfriend or husband found out what they were doing. It's what he calls his "golden rule."
A typical Cubadave post contains a handful of photos — Strecker riding banana boats and dining at open-air restaurants with exotic women, as well as more suggestive ones of the women down on all fours. He's smiling and almost glowing orange in picture after picture of himself surrounded by a gaggle of dark-skinned companions with fake breasts. Strecker also posts pictures that seem to promote regular businesses and has catalogued the women at Rosa's giving manicures and back massages.
Rosa accesses the internet for 32 Dominican pesos (about 75 cents) per hour using connection cards and sells sex to support her 6-year-old daughter, she says. She employs five or six girls at any one time. She got access to Facebook only about a year ago and now boasts of friends all over the world — Spain, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Miami.
Strecker is just one of these foreign friends, although he is probably her most important connection. Rosa says men follow him down the streets of Sosua like a celebrity, calling him the "Minister of Information." On the other hand, women seek his attention as a means to reach customers who will know to ask for them by name. So valuable is a plug on his website that prostitutes supposedly offer to sleep with Strecker in exchange for a review.
It never occurred to Rosa, though, that Strecker could be making money off her pimping. She believes he is wealthy, because he travels from Florida once per month at least. He must be a popular entertainer, she says, because as soon as he arrives in town, women run up to him while shouting, "Cuba! Cuba! Cuba!"
Recently, authorities have cracked down on prostitution in Sosua. There were about 30 massage parlors near the hotel strip in Sosua where Rosa's Salon stands. Cops shut down 16 of them in one fell swoop on an afternoon in July. Rosa was forced to close her place too, but this past October, she opened a new beauty salon that doesn't advertise massages. She still offers sex on the sly, though.
And, of course, she wants Strecker to take pictures of her new business so she can get off on the right foot. "He's doing this out of the kindness of his heart," she says.
It was midnight on a Wednesday when Noah Goldberg was shot dead. The 48-year-old Brooklyn man was sitting with a younger man and a local girl at a table in a Medellín restaurant when two others finished the last of their beer, stood up from an adjacent table, and wordlessly fired once into his shoulder and then into his skull. They fled the restaurant and have yet to be apprehended even though they left behind a jacket and two T-shirts. "Possibly his assassination was an order, but we don't know whose," the commander of the Medellín Metro Police, Yesid Vásquez, told the local newspaper El Colombiano in May 2012.
For years, most Latin American and Caribbean officials have turned a blind eye to prostitution and sex tourism. But recently, there's been trouble in paradise.
Newspapers in Colombia were quick to report that Goldberg was one of three expatriates murdered in that country in 2012. According to several internet sites, including Expat Chronicles, he was better known as the "Medellín Paisa" — possibly the premier guide to sex tourism in the world.
Goldberg offered South American sex tours through the site MedellinPaisaTours.com, which charged up to a 50 percent markup on hotels but also offered connections to prostitutes. According to Expat Chronicles, he was known for a loud mouth and a cocaine problem. Although the Colombian police have not offered a motive for the murder, some members of the monger community speculate he simply got greedy.
One post on the site NaughtyNomad.com offered this explanation for his death: "For example, if his tour was $100 for the day, he'd tell the client WRONG, you need to pay $400 or my 'taxista' is going to take you for a long ride (AKA kill you). His taxi was an old-school killer, so [Goldberg] thought he was GANGSTA."
In Sosua this past July, the Dominican attorney general threw Peter Jensen, a German expat who ran a club called Passion's, in jail. Jensen had revolutionized the sex industry there by making girls employees and fining them if they were late or didn't apply makeup, Strecker says. Jensen even advertised the girls' services on a large menu that looked like it belonged at a Denny's rather than a brothel.
Although the club scene in Sosua has been tolerated for years, Jensen's recent attempt to commercialize the sex tourism experience was not well received by the local government, which is scrambling to make way for a $65 million Carnival Cruise Lines facility that's set to open about 15 miles west of Sosua in 2014.
Jensen was charged with trafficking 32 women and placed in a filthy prison cell with 91 other inmates until he was released on bond last month. "During the raid at that establishment... computers and digital cameras, as well as ladies uniforms, invoices, and receipts, were found," the newspaper El Día reported.
The heat has started coming down on Strecker too. At the end of October, he reported problems at Passion's, and comments began rolling in:
"Making yourself a big target, Dave," wrote John Lehman, whose Facebook profile photo shows a bald, middle-aged Canadian.
"You're making it too hot in certain places, Dave. You gotta be low-key on what you say, do, or stay. My advice is to lay low on the action on what's going on there," added Derrick Tinglin, a young man from Wichita, Kansas.
"With all the goofy, unexplainable things happening in Sosua, Dave, be careful. None of us want to see anything happen to you. We appreciate all of the great updates. Please watch yourself. They maybe try'n to shut you down," Bruce Smith, a member of the Facebook group Black Professionals Network, chimed in.
On October 30, customs officials seized Strecker's cell phone, digital camera, and laptop when he returned to Miami from Sosua. A customs official told him the check was routine and he'd get his devices back within a few days. He's still waiting.
So how is Strecker making his living these days? "I don't have to work," he says with a smile. "I make money just by being me."
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