Prostitutes Exploited by Immigration, Night Club Owners, and Lawyers in Panama
Sunday, June 06 2010 @ 11:34 am EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
(Note: Photos for illustrative purposes - all from www.elcomplaciente.com)
Protecting Their Identities: For reasons that should be more than obvious I have to protect the identities of the women that I have been talking to. They are all foreigners, and they admit that they are working in Panama as prostitutes, so that much is clear. Most of them are in Panama "legally" - that is to say they are here on a tourist visa, have some kind of card or carnet from Immigration, and are not in violation of any kind of immigration law. Yes, they admit they are working as prostitutes, however when they were arrested they were simply sitting in a bar having a drink. It's not like they were caught in the act, in a sting operation, or something like that. It's not illegal for a tourist to sit in a bar and have a drink, right? No matter, they were arrested and hauled down to Immigration anyway, legal or not.
Anyone Can Turn Tricks in Panama: Any prostitute on the planet can simply fly to Panama, enter as a tourist, obtain a cheap cell phone number, put an ad in the classified section and start to work as a prostitute. For example in today's edition of La Prensa the following ad appears: "Voluptuous girl with cinnamon skin offers 'super complete' massages, everything included, that will leave you feeling like new. Discreet. Call 6687-4066." Give her a call, but just so you know "voluptuous" normally is code for "fat." Anyway, the point is that anyone can come here and do this. There are a few centers of gravity where many of the girls go to cruise for tourists, places like Habana's Cigar Bar, located right across the street from the Marriott Hotel in Panama City (where the gringo's stay.) The guys go there because the girls are there. The girls go there because the guys are there. It all works out just fine, they are all adults, no one is forcing the women to sell their bodies, and no one is forcing the men to hire them. It's the oldest profession in the world, for a reason. And of course all of this is unregulated in anyway so you're taking your chances.
The Regulated System: The government of Panama has created an entire system of "Alternadora" visas which allows the owners of whore houses and strip clubs to hire foreign girls and to bring them into Panama where they can work in the sex trade legally for as much as nine months. The nightclub owners have to obtain one "cupo" or permit for every girl. When the girls come into the country they get "Alternadora" (Entertainer) stamped in their passport. And, they have to turn over about half of the money they make to the nightclub owner. Basically, the girls don't like this system for several reasons. First of all, they have a "boss" and they can't make their own decisions as to when they want to work. Their "boss" is basically their pimp, and he takes about half of the money they generate. And, they get a big fat stamp in their passports that basically says "I'm A Prostitute" - and that's the part they like the least. So, the smart ones who have been around the block a few times avoid this system. They would rather work as independents. Have cell phone, will screw for money. What's wrong with that?
The Nightclub Owners Pay Through The Nose: Immigration sucks big bucks out of the nightclub owners for the "cupos". To be clear - I mean they have to pay thousands of dollars in bribes just to get the "cupos" assigned so they can bring in the girls. They have to invest a whole lot of money in paperwork, lawyers fees, and bribes, to say nothing of the money they have to spend to refurbish the club itself to get it ready to open. We're talking investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to position yourself as the "Pimp Daddy of Panama City." However, there's a catch. The girls don't want to work for you. And, why should they when they can make twice as much money by just hanging out at a bar on weekends?
Hence, The Recent Raids: A new club called the "Moulin Rouge" just opened on Via Veneto, right below the Don Lee restaurant, next to where the old "My Place" bar was years ago. It's to the left of the long standing "Oasis" massage parlor. According to the girls who were arrested, Immigration conducted the most recent series of raids against the prostitutes because the owner of the Moulin Rouge - who they identified only as "the Swiss guy" - is pissed off. He apparently invested a whole lot of money to open his new club, and no one was going there. He needed to get the streets swept clean of the "tourist hookers" in Panama, so he reportedly or allegedly (according to the girls) paid a bribe to Immigration so that they would go out and conduct these raids. If there are no girls working as freelancers in the bars, then the men would have to go to his club in order to find the girls, right? This is a turf battle more than anything else. In response, Immigration did in fact conduct two raids in May, resulting in the arrest of more than 90 women.
"As If He Owned The Place" The details of what was going on became very clear to the women who were being held in the immigration holding cells. While they were being held the girls in the immigration holding cell they could not receive visits from friends or family members. However the "Swiss guy" was allowed to waltz into the immigration holding cells where the women were being held "as if he owned the place." He was escorted into the women's area by Immigration officials. He was allowed to "inspect" all of the women as if he was picking sheep from the herd. One woman said "he picked all girls who were young, slim, good looking, with long dark hair." He paid additional bribes to Immigration to have these women released, and they were set free immediately, They were all taken to work for him at his club, however he is now retaining their documents, paperwork, cards, and passports. While the girls did not have to pay any fines or fees to be released from immigration, they are now being forced to work basically as sex slaves for this man. They have not reached any kind of agreement as to how much money they will have to pay him, he simply said "you can work it off." These girls are just tourists and are not here as "alternadoras" (entertainers) and they are forced to work from 6:00 pm until 4:00 am. The girls can't quit because if they demand their paperwork he will just turn them back over to immigration, who he has apparently bought off.
$1,000 Per Head - Or Be Deported: The rest of the women, those who were not selected to go work for "the Swiss guy," faced extortion by Immigration officials. They were told that they had to pay between $1,000 to $1,500 each or else they would be deported. Most of these women were in the country legally as tourists or they had some other kind of card or permission from Immigration, but immigration officials simply said "we have discovered a problem" in your status, so either you pay or you will be deported. The lawyers who were representing these women basically took half of the money, and the other half went to corrupt immigration officials as bribes. Let's see, about 90 women, average payments of about $1,250 and half as bribes - these two raids generated roughly $56,250 in bribes that were paid to corrupt immigration officials, and the other half (equal amount) went to the lawyers, who were in on the whole thing. One of the girls initially paid $200 to a non-corrupt and honest lawyer who was trying to represent them as part of a Human Rights Non Government Organization (NGO). That lawyer gave them back their money and said "even though you are here in the country legally, there is nothing I can do. It has been made perfectly clear to me that the only way to get you out of here is to pay the bribes to the immigration officials, and in my position I cannot do that. So, I am returning your money to you, and either you will have to play by their rules or you will be deported. I'm very sorry..."
"If We Ever Catch You Again" Remember, this entire scam has several end objectives. First, for the "Swiss guy" it gets the tourist hookers off the streets and forces the Johns into his club, where he can make money as a pimp. Secondly, it generates bribes for immigration officials. However, it does the "Swiss guy" no good if the girls simply pay their bribes and go straight back to the bars and turning tricks. As they were released, they got a stern warning from the immigration officials - "If we ever catch you again, you will be deported." The girls don't want to be deported because when that happens they put a stamp in your passport that prevents you from returning for from five to ten years, for any reason. They really, really don't want to get that stamp in their passport, and are willing to do almost anything to keep that from happening.
Nowhere To Turn: These girls literally have nowhere they can turn. They cannot make any kind of an official complaint or denouncement. First of all, they admit they are prostitutes and most people really could not care less what happens to them. Secondly, the very governmental institution that is supposed to be monitoring and regulating this kind of thing - Immigration - are the ones who are breaking the law. And remember, Immigration works for the Executive branch of government, so it makes no sense to complain to the "Corruption Czar" because they too work for the Executive. The police? Yup, also Executive branch. That leaves the Attorney General's office and we all know what happened with Ana Matilde Gomez and Giuseppe Bonissi (also practically part of the Executive branch, for all intents and purposes.) The wild card would be the Office of the Ombudsman (Defensoria del Pueblo) where people are supposed to be able to go when their human rights are being violated, but to he honest I have not heard a peep out of those guys in a very long time. Last hope - international organizations. At the end of the day these women have no one they can complain too - and that is precisely why they are being exploited. There's not a damn thing they can do about it. The message is - shut the fuck up and pay, whore. Nice, really nice.
Farming This Out To Panamanian Media: I just got all of this today. I am now going to be talking to my contacts in the Panamanian news media to see if anyone wants to pick the story up and run with it. I certainly hope it gets some traction.
Copyright 2010 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.