Hookers, Hookers... In Obarrio???
Tuesday, October 23 2007 @ 12:46 PM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - I ran into someone who reads Panama-Guide regularly and they commented "what's the matter, Don? No stories about hookers lately?" Hey, not by choice, you can bet on that. As chance would have it I got a telephone call late yesterday afternoon from Ivan Medina, the Secretary of the company for JetSet Elegancia Intl. If you remember La Prensa and several other local newspapers ran stories about a raid the "corregidora" (Justice of the Peace) from Bella Vista conducted against their business on 2 October 2007. I picked up the story from La Prensa and translated it when it came out. They were calling me to complain, to clarify what had happened, and to ask me to pull down the original article. (more)
Officially Pro-Hooker: Let me state my bias going into this article - I am officially pro-hooker. I think whatever consenting adults decide to do to one another behind closed doors is their business. I know all of the arguments about exploitation and abuse and believe there are ways to mitigate those threats and to protect the women and men who work in the sex industry as well as their clients. Obviously there is and always will be a demand for their services and someone will always step up with the supply. Over the years the Government of Panama has taken a generally common sense approach, much more liberal than the silly knee-jerk anti sex industry found in most of the Puritanical-based United States. Pushing hookers underground by making everything illegal tends to put everyone involved in much more danger in several senses of the word. Recognizing and accepting reality allows the Panamanian government to implement means and measures to protect everyone on all sides of the business transaction. That's my official stance, for what it's worth, and you should know that going in.
But, In Obarrio? The JetSet Elegancia Intl compound is located at the corner of Calle 57 and 3rd Street South in Obarrio. For the record, this is a neighborhood of mansions, some of them worth millions of dollars. To get there, drive down Calle 50 past the Marbella intersection. On your left hand side you will see the "Tropicana" furniture store at the intersection with the traffic signal. That is Calle 56 and you can not turn to the left there because it's one-way coming towards Calle 50. Turn to the left at the very next street which is Calle 57. You will know that you have the correct street because there is a nice park on your right hand side. The JetSet Elegancia Intl compound is the last house on the left hand side. It has a large while wall all the way around. They have Valet Parking (according to their website) and the doors are marked "Entrance" and "Exit". The second door is the entrance, so you can just pull up, they will open the door for you, and then the door will close behind you once you're inside. Should take about ten seconds, max.
So, What's The Problem: According to Estella Echeverri, the President of the company, there are a lot of rich and powerful people who live in Obarrio and they don't like the fact that they are operating a "spa" in their neighborhood. She accused the "corregidora" of Bella Vista, Lic. Lourdes Guerra, of being corrupt and of having abused her power. In a telephone interview Echeverri said "I was traveling to Costa Rica at the time of the raid. If I had been there I never would have let them enter the house." Echeverri said "residents of Obarrio paid the corregidora of Bella Vista to conduct the raid, and they paid the press to print bad articles about us in order to do damage to our business." I asked her if she had or if she intended to file an official criminal complaint with Panama's Judicial Technical Police (PTJ) regarding her alleged complaints against Lic. Lourdes Guerra, because she was making serious allegations of corruption. Echeverri said "we are currently consulting with our lawyers and we intend to file a criminal complaint against the corregidora for corruption as well as for abuse of power and abuse of her office and position. In addition we are going to sue the newspapers that ran the story as well."
Is This "Spa" a Massage Parlor? I explained my "pro-hooker" position to Estella Echeverri. I gave her my quick analysis of the problems she was having which apparently stem from her choice of location and venue. Many rich, powerful, and well known people who live in those houses in that particular neighborhood of Obarrio, and there's no way they are going to stand for a "spa" to operate literally in their backyards. And another thing, if JetSet Elegancia Intl is really a "spa" which does nothing but beauty treatments for aging socialites, then they probably would not have any problems at all. If that were the case then the little old biddies in the neighborhood would be lining up for facials and a nice bikini-waxing before their weekend jaunt to Contadora on the yacht..
Trying to Bullshit Me Is Generally A Bad Idea: And this is the part where I got ticked off. I explained nicely to Echeverri that I've been here for more than twenty years, that I've researched the sex industry in Panama extensively, I know most of the owners and players, and that everyone in the world knows that JetSet Elegancia Intl is actually a Panamanian-style massage parlor, done fancy. All of these massage parlors work on the "don't ask, don't tell" principle. The client pays a flat fee at the door and then heads off to a room with the girl. Whatever happens between the two adults behind closed doors is between them. Echeverri held her ground. In spite of significant evidence to the contrary, she continued to insist that no, JetSet Elegancia Intl is not that kind of an operation, and that they are not involved in the sex industry in Panama, at all.
Salute the Bullshit Flag As It Runs Up The Pole: It took me about 30 seconds to Google the customer feedback from the whore monger chat boards and forums that are all over the Internet. On these boards international whore mongers discuss their experiences with different establishments in Panama. The general consensus on JetSet Elegancia Intl, and this is feedback from customers who have been there (and, I have not) is that they are charging too much for what they provide, and that the girls simply are not that great. You would be better off at another club. When I told Echeverri about those reports, she asked me "where are those, I've been trying to find them..." and I told her how to use Google. Good luck with that.
Oh My! Email Threats: I almost forgot. Before the phone calls came in I received this email from dario [email@example.com] which said:
- "My friend no say lies of jetset. We have all document for operation free, Jet set is funtionaly in this moment, an need you remove the mesage about jetset, this message impact direct my business, if you no remove this message. We open a legal process for Don Winner. Sorry my friend. note: respond this email for later tomorrow."
Errr... OK: Later on the phone Estella Echeverri told me that email was written by Ivan Medina, the first guy who called, and that he used one of her email addresses by mistake to send me that email. What's really funny is that if you Google "Dario" (the name that comes with the email address) "Echeverri" (the last name of the President of JetSet Elegancia Intl) and "Panama" you come up with SEC filings for a guy named Dario Echeverri who was involved in a company called Phone1globalwide Inc in Panama back in 2004 and 2005. Now, are the two related? I have no idea. The only other Dario Echeverri is a Priest in Colombia who got famous for trying to negotiate a peace with the far-right paramilitaries. Maybe he's thrown in the cloth and has come over to the other side? Nah...
Obviously, so threat of any kind of sexual activity here...
Wait A Minute, Back To The Sex Thing: For the record, when the "corregiduria" (Justice of the Peace) of Bella Vista raided the JetSet Elegancia Intl compound their website went down immediately. And also for the record, shortly after the raid I began to see ads in the paper again for JetSet Elegancia Intl in the personal sections of La Prensa, La Critica, etc. So, it seems like they are, in fact, back in business.
A Construction Related Complaint: According to Ivan Medina the original problem with the "corregidora" had to do with an issue related to a construction complaint and that they used that as a pretext to enter their facility. He went on to say that the company has all of their permits and permissions to operate as a spa, and that they had fixed the problem and were opened basically the next day.
"How Many "Alternadora" Visas Do You Have?" I asked Ivan Median how many "alternadora" visas they have, and he said that they have about ten. He said the problem is that many of the girls left when the "corregidora" made her raid, and that the "alternadora" visas are tied to the girls. That there is a process through which you have to "clean" the visa to allow it to be used by another girl, and that's part of their problem. Medina said they are now operating primarily with Panamanian girls, which does away with that problem.
Backtrack, Change Story: The first conversation I had with these people was with Ivan Medina. After that conversation I received another call a few minutes later from Estella Echeverri who contradicted what Ivan Medina had just told me. She said that they do not have any "cupos" for "alternadora visas" because, she said, "we are not that kind of business." So when I asked her if they were using all Panamanian employees, she said "no, we are using Colombian girls as well, but only as professional service contracts."
Ah, It's All Coming Together: A few weeks ago I got a tip from someone in Immigration who called to let me know that "there was a house in Obarrio that was full of Colombian girls who were turning tricks." At the time it got by me, but when Estella Echeverri told me they had "Colombian independents" working there on "professional service" contracts, that was even enough for someone as dense as me to make the connection. JetSet Elegancia Intl was the house my contact in Immigration was talking about, and they had called me before the raid that was conducted by the "corregidora" of Bella Vista. Unfortunately, my contact simply didn't know the exact location of the house, and I didn't have time to chase it down. No wait, that call came in months ago.
A Call to the "Corregidora": I like to be able to verify all angles of the stories I publish so I put a call into the office of Lic. Lourdes Guerra, the "corregidora" of Bella Vista, to get her response to the threat of a criminal complaint for being corrupt, having accepted bribes from the residents of Obarrio, for having abused her office, and for overstepping her bounds, according to Estella Echeverri. I called again and the people in her office explained that all hearings are scheduled on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and that it might be difficult to speak with Lic. Lourdes Guerra on the issue, or that she would not be able to get back to me with a formal response for a day or two. So, that's pending.
What About the "Alternadora" Visa Thing: That's kinda funny, because when I spoke to Ivan Medina in the first conversation he was right on the money as concerns the technical handling and the "ins and outs" of dealing with foreign girls who are working in Panama on contract under "alternadora" visas. I was convinced that the did have the ten "cupos" or so just based on the way he answered my questions. But then he was contradicted by Estella Echeverri who said that Median was wrong and that they do not have any (zero) "alternadora" visas. I told her I was going to follow that up with immigration, and she said "go right ahead."
Now, A Call In To Immigration: Sra. Maritza Aldiano who works in the a section of Immigration (that I had never heard of) called "Transeúnte" is responsible for knowing exactly which companies have all of the "alternadora" visas in Panama. I gave them the names of the primary players, Ivan Medina and Estella Echeverri, the name of the business as well as the business address, and they are going to investigate to find out if they have any "alterndadora" visas or not. According to Sra. Maritza Aldiano, she checked the records in immigration and there is no indication of any "alternadora" visas being issued to the company JetSet Elegancia Intl. She checked on the name of the company, the names of the people involved, as well as the operating address of the "spa" and confirmed what Estella Echeverri told me - they don't have any "alternadora" visas. Glad we got that cleared up.
Maybe Starting With A Threat Was A Bad Tactic: Estella Echeverri started to try to tell me how to write, what to publish, which story to pull down, etc. I explained to her that it simply does not work that way. She said that "but if I do a Google search for JetSet Elegancia Intl then the first thing I find is your article about us." Well, not anymore. Now, you're going to find this one. I told her (again) that I personally do not have any problems at all with the sex industry in Panama, and that the real problem she has is with her choice of venue. I mean, if the thing was located somewhere else no one would mind. But putting this kind of business in the ritzy Obarrio neighborhood was just a dumb business decision. That's her bad call, not mine. I also explained to her that when I do a story I don't just take a phone call from one person and start writing what she wants to hear. I'm now in the process of (happily) writing about hookers in Panama again. So, thanks for that.
Call Out The Dogs: I am happily engaged to my lovely fiancé and our beautiful daughter just turned ten months old so there's no way I can conduct any kind of independent verification of certain aspects of this story on my own. But there certainly is no shortage of "dogs" out there who run in these circles all the time, and I made some phone calls to get a "blow by blow" description of the activity inside of the house (so to speak, pun on purpose.) Research. It's all in the name of accurate investigative journalism. Wouldn't want anyone to accuse me of doing an incomplete job of it, you know.
All Hookers, All The Time: If I changed the name of the website to the Panama-Hooker-Guide my traffic would probably quadruple overnight. Whatever. I write about this stuff because a lot of the English speaking expatriates who come to Panama make use of these services. They exist whether Ruben Blades likes it or not, and it's best to know which places are operating with all of their permits and permissions because you can walk off the street and hit the Oasis Club for the "businessman's lunch special" and be perfectly within the law, no muss, no fuss. If the JetSet Elegancia Intl people are in the middle of having a run-in with their neighbors and the "corregidora" of Bella Vista Lic. Lourdes Guerra, well then that's their problem. My job is to just figure it all out and do what I always do, write about the hookers in Panama. Allow me to add this - I know Lic. Lourdes Guerra personally and she's seen it all. I hope that the people at the JetSet Elegancia Intl have their act together, because they have made some pretty serious allegations, and from where I'm sitting they appear to be on pretty thin ice. Let's watch and see what happens next.
Copyright 2007 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.