Hookers, For or Against?
Wednesday, May 09 2007 @ 11:47 AM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
Way Too Public: When the TVN report hit the airwaves, Panama's Minister of Government and Justice picked up the phone and called Ricardo Vargas, the Director of Immigration and asked (basically) "what the hell...?" The words "sex tourism" are guaranteed to catch the attention of government officials in Panama. They really don't want the rest of the world to see Panama as a destination for International Johns (or Janes, for that matter.) But in reality it's easy to find sex for money in Panama, and the government has always tried to find this way of navigating the middle ground. They want to try to protect the girls, protect the Johns, and tax the business but they don't appreciate it when all of their good efforts come back and hit them in the left eye with a "splat."
Back to the Crystal Moon: Anytime I have to write an article about hookers and strippers, I go straight to the source. Victor Politis is the owner of the Cristal Moon club in Calidonia and is currently facing a 5 year stint at La Joya for human trafficking. He is currently free on bail while his case runs through appeal. He had the bad luck of running into a "hanging judge" who tends to convict everyone and then let the Superior Court sort things out. He also has a pretty strong case to have his conviction overturned on appeal. He is an American citizen who is right in the middle of this business and knows the deal.
"In the navy..." There's nothing like a boat full of horny sailors to get a strip club hopping. The "Gentlemen's Club" business in Panama is highly competitive and the owners "steal" the girls and entice them to work at one club or the other. The girls want to work where they get the best combination of pay, respect, and safety and security. The guys need a place where they can have fun, be safe, and get drunk and stupid while partying with hot strippers. And while the random business traveller might wander in now and then, a couple of boats at Rodman pier can bring in 300 guys in 30 minutes. Ka' ching.
This Isn't New: Panama's "J Street" was famous for hookers and was located right across the street from the old Canal Zone on the other side of 4th of July Avenue. There were several other joints in the area that were combinations of bars, strip clubs and brothels, and the entire structure of foreign sex trade workers on official Panamanian visas came about to "service" that demand. The logic is simple - better to bring in Colombian girls to work as prostitutes than to put local girls at risk. In fact the real demand comes from the fact that Colombia is a big (huge) country compared to Panama and there is a lot more talent to choose from. The girls are hot and horny, and they know exactly what they are doing when they come here. "Plain" girls with little experience and no artificial fine-tuning or plastic surgery can start off making $1,500 per month, easy. The top-of-the line models with all the bells and whistles can bring in $8,000 per month, and there's basically a line to get at them.
"Alternadora" Visas: This is one you're probably not going to see advertised on the lawyer's websites. International prostitutes can come to Panama on 90-day visas to work as escorts. Immigration gives slots or "cupos" to the clubs, and every club owner knows exactly how many slots they have. There is a complicated legal process which requires a whole lot of inspections, paperwork, stamps, health checks, and money in order to make the girls legal. Once they are here they can work for a total of three rotations of 90-days, the first round and then two extensions or a total of nine months. After that time they have to return to their country of origin for a minimum of five months before they can legally return in that status. Victor's club is authorized 50 "alternadora" slots but because of the legal problems he's hiring more local talent.
"Zones of Increased Tolerance" Huh? When I was doing my research for this article I interviewed several immigration officials and this phrase - "zones of increased tolerance" kept coming up. I was digging into the obvious contradiction between a historical acceptance of quasi-legal prostitution in Panama and the occasional crackdown, like the raid on the Midnight Club two days ago. I noticed the obvious - Victor Politis is an American and he is facing jail time. The guy who owns the Midnight Club is also an American and the 23 girls he had working for him have now all either been deported or are in jail. Anytime I see selective enforcement of laws apparently targeting foreigners over locals then my attention gets focused. Why not bust the Bombonera, Gruta Azul, or La Gloria? Why pick on the gringos?
Breaking the Law: According to Immigration officials there were all kinds of problems with the operation being run at the Midnight Club. First of all the owner had 15 "cupos" for "alternadoras" but when authorities walked in they did a quick headcount and came up with 23 heads. That's one strike. Next, the paperwork said that the "cupos" belonged to the "Life Girls" club, but the big sign out front said "Midnight Club." These cupos can not be transferred. Strike two. Then when they started checking the passports and paperwork of the 23 girls in the place about half of them were in Panama on tourist visas and were not supposed to be working there at all. Strike three. They decided to shut the place down and to haul them all in based on the fact that the owner was apparently breaking several laws.
Calling Attention To Yourself: The immigration officials said that this owner apparently had just decided that he was going to do whatever he wanted, and to do so flagrantly and with impunity. He had recently purchased the "Life Girls" operation for $300,000 and changed the name on the front of the building but not the documents. He started off by putting up the partygirlspa.com website which had the "come on down and get laid" side in English, and the "come on up and make some serious money" side in Spanish. The part that really caught the attention of immigration officials was the part in Spanish where the website said that they could guarantee the girls would have no problems with Panamanian immigration, because it sounded like they had paid people off.
So, What Happened to the Girls: Of the 23 girls, eleven were working illegally on tourist visas and were immediately deported. They now have a restriction on re-entering the country. There was one girl from (forget which country) who had a five-month old baby and was nursing, which makes her ineligible for the "alternadora" visa and she was returned to her country of origin. There was another woman who was detained at the time of the arrest, and she was apparently just selling Avon products or something to the girls. They let her go. There were also a two Panamanian girls who were briefly detained. Their health records were in order so they were released, and one of them is now working at the Crystal Moon. The other ten Colombian girls who were in Panama legally on "alternadora" visas remain in detention at immigration while they figure out what to do with them. They are being questioned by prosecutors who might take legal action against the club owner.
Want to Find a Hooker? Not hard to do. Open your phone book to page 508 in the yellow pages, under "masajes." There you will find listings for massage parlors that have been operating for at least ten years. The Golden Time, The Hawaii Center, the Caribbean Center, Oasis Girls, and the River Club for example. The owners get around the law by charging the Johns $20 bucks at the door and then "whatever happens in the room between the client and the girl is between them, and we don't know anything about that." Plausible deny-ability. The entire system in Panama is built around plausible deny-ability. A Wink and A Nod. Whatever. The reality is that there is a booming sex trade in Panama.
Door to Door Service: Now with disposable cell phones being so cheap the girls (and guys) can advertise almost anywhere and take the calls they think are safe. They will show up at your door, ready to go. The Johns are almost never prosecuted and even if you're busted prostitution is considered to be an "administrative" offense, so the worst thing that's going to happen is a $50 fine down at the local corregiduria's office. Most of the judges know who the hookers are because they have a tendency to get into disputes or involved in drug use. Use a reputible escort service like El Complaciente.com. More expensive, but also higher end, safer, and legal.
Rookies vs. the Pros: It's easy to spot the new girls. They have not been in the business long enough to make the money required for plastic surgery. Once they've been around the block a few dozen times they can afford to have all of the artificial support that money can buy. These "high end" girls can demand more money because they look great, they know the market, they have contacts, and they know where the money is. Go hang out at a casino for thirty minutes, and when you see the most amazing beautiful girl on the arm of a grinning, money-blowing tourist, then there's a good chance that she started off several years ago shaking her ass in a dive strip club. The girls tend to "move up" through the system.
Plastic Surgery in Colombia: One thing that's funny is that people from the US come down to Panama to have elective surgery done, and the women in Panama go to Colombia to have breast implants or other plastic surgery done there, because it's cheaper. I know one surgeon who comes to Panama once every two months. He gets a hotel room and then does preliminary screening exams on the girls and then schedules them for surgery at his spa (slash) retreat in Colombia. The girls schedule the trips to coincide with their required five-month break and at the end of the nine months of working so they have the cash to pay. They get the work done, rest, recover, and heal, then come back to Panama for another round.
Sex Tourism in Panama: If you're anywhere in the world reading this article and wondering if Panama is a good place to party and have fun with several flavors of hookers, then yes, it is. But, anyone that puts up a website advertising Panama as a sex tourism destination is going to run afoul of the authorities. Prostitution is illegal in Panama, remember? Plausible deny-ability. Just keep repeating that, stay below the radar, and have a good time. Stick your head up and it will get whacked off.
Be Careful With the Independents: The girls and business owners who play by the rules end up having to pay a significant portion of their earnings back to the Panamanian government as taxes. They have to "deal with" the visa issues, paperwork, rules and regulations, and health procedures. And, they are on the "books" as hookers. So there is a tendency for girls to come up to Panama and work a round or two and then leave. They return later on a tourist visa and then stay and work illegally and off the books. This is where the random sex tourist is most likely to get into some kind of trouble. These girls have less controls and checks on their health. They operate out of apartments or clandestine locations that are hiding from the authorities. They are not registered so they can split on a moment's notice and be on a plane to Barranquilla with all of your valuables before you've waken up with a hangover. Or worse, you can end up drugged or dead.
Be Careful at the Lower End: Want to take an adventure? Wander down to one of the really "cheap" bordellos that cater to the local bus drivers and hot dog salesmen. Panamanians need lovin', too. Those places tend to be much more dangerous, especially to a white foreigner with money who does not speak Spanish, obviously out of place and clueless. That's a great way to get hurt badly. If you must go, do so in numbers and with a guide to keep you out of trouble. The risk factors in "zones of increased tolerance" increase sharply.
Child Pornography in Panama: There is ZERO tolerance for child abuse or pornography in Panama. There have been several cases in which child pornographers have been busted and thrown in jail. Some gringos come down to abuse children and they end up in jail or dead. The Panamanian government and law enforcement officials will energetically prosecute anyone who would abuse children in any way, so don't even think about it. Go somewhere else. Everyone else should be aware that Panama is not as sophisticated or advanced in their regulations for tracking sex offenders, so they have a tendency to leave the United States and go to the third world to continue to break the law. Heads up. They are out there.
Both Sides of Panama: In many respects Panama is like Las Vegas on the cheap, without all of those pesky laws. Drug runners, money launderers, casinos and hookers. Oh yeah. There's beaches, too. I specialize in telling the truth about Panama and I love this country. Personally I'm "pro hooker." I like dolphins, too. I think it's great that there are hookers all over the place. The girls who are currently in detention at the immigraion office knew exactly what they were doing. As a matter of fact the girls like it when there is a safe and controlled environment where there are clean rooms, security, and controlled access and screening of the customers. They don't like risk any more than anyone else and flying as an independent is much more risky.
Copyright 2007 By Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. As usual, feel free to use anything you want as long as you link back and give credit to the original source. Salud.