SEX-PLOITATION IN LATIN AMERICA

  “In the Western Hemisphere, Latin America dominates the sexpat scene. Places like Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic top out as some of the world's most visited sex tourism destinations.  These countries are experiencing a sex boom due to a greater influx of Americans and Canadians traveling south for "vacation." -  TopSexTourismDestinations, XtremeTravelStories.com

 Seven out of ten of the top searched sex tourism phrases are found in Latin America and the Caribbean. I wish I could say I was surprised but I saw this practice firsthand during my travels to Latin America. The most jarring was in Utila, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras. The island was filled with blond, blue eyed Canadian, Australian, European and United States citizens on vacation who found a local to occupy their time in between scuba diving and extreme intoxication. I interviewed a few of the local men and they said it’s always been part of Utila. Their only options to attain a visa or to leave the country was to get a European, American or Canadian “girlfriend.” One Utilian spoke candidly that both parties knew exactly what they were looking for. He said “I would take them out, show them a good time, I’d climb a tree and bring them down a coconut, they really liked that.” Aside from the apparent exotification and sub-human fetishizing that took place I asked the man if he loved these women, he said “Yea, I liked them,” to which I replied, “I have absolutely no doubt you liked them even lusted, but I know you did not love not one of them.” He shrugged and admitted he didn’t but there were no other options to leave the country. I asked him now that the locals do have a little more, not a lot more but slightly more options, why does it seem that the culture of sex tourism still flourishes? He said the women just keep coming. Other local men said the same.  “

As Carla Guerrón Montero wrote in “Black is Not as Beautiful: Gender, Sexuality and Tourism in Panama, “Less common are romantic relations between Afro-Antillean women and white North American or European men. If the women develop steady family relationships with these men, and they stay in the Archipelago and provide for them or take them to their countries, people’s commentaries are less negative. However, women who engage in romantic relationships with transient tourists are criticized, particularly if children result from the affairs. Men and women view their relationships with tourists or resident expatriates differently: while men look for white women for entertainment, women look for white men to find a possible long-term partner (Brennan, 2004).”

The rotating blonds the local men kept were commonplace. The day one woman left on the ferry, another one replaced her on their moto. I wondered why it was mostly men who engaged in this, and it became apparent that it was more women who were coming to “vacation”.

Access to women that was formerly forbidden to men of color also plays a part, “with the onset of tourism, the steady presence of white women (and, more recently, white men) traveling or settling alone has generated transformations and new dynamics in personal relations and understandings of the body. There is a strong attraction toward whiteness in Bocas del Toro. The fascination includes the hope of maintaining transient adventures with Anglo-Saxons, but in some circumstances, the interest is in bearing mixed children. This attraction is assumed to be stronger than a person’s will, particularly in the case of men. According to Bryan Ramirez, a black man who works at the Bocas airport, “we now have access to white women. Our desire for them is so strong that if they sent us an army of white women [referring to the 1989 US invasion of Panama] there would be divorces all over the place” (interview B. R., October 23, 1999). For some Afro-Antilleans the presence of Anglo-Saxon men and women has the potential to negatively affect the population. An Afro-Antillean elder feared no one will be interested in black women in the future, since his friends had commented: “If I were 20 years younger, I would be trying to attract one of those white tourists. Consequently, it is relatively frequently that men leave their families and steady relationships in pursuit of a relationship with a white woman.” 

I pointed this out to a few other travelers staying at my hostel and immediately one South African man exclaimed ‘Oh yea, I definitely noticed that, just like the rich Italian women and their Massai men, it’s all over South Africa, Zanzibar and Kenya.”

“Female sex tourism is often ignored due to the significantly lower rates in comparison to male sex tourism and it is said female sex tourism differs from male sex tourism, because of the different gender roles it encompasses and strays away from the strictly physical aspect of the sex tour and diverges into different aspects of the relationship such as romance and intimacy.” All valid points but I beg to differ. Sex is still a highly motivating factor in these encounters. Whether an ‘official’ sex worker or escort or an “unofficial” beautiful stranger. It’s there.

The mandingo idea persists and has been glamorized in movies such as ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’ where Stella bedded the “strapping, young islander, Winston Shakespeare” in Jamaica and ‘Sanky Panky’ which shows how the Dominican main character Genaro becomes a sanky-panky to get married to an American tourist for a visa. Economic benefits are a priority in a lot of cases, as the Utilans pointed out and specifically in Bocas del Toro in Panama “Bocatoreneans assert that finding a white woman with whom to have a relationship “is like winning the lottery” for two main reasons: because the “race is improved” if the couple ends up having children, and because the relationship guarantees a better economic life...Other men emphasize the fact that these women have more economic resources than them, and can provide them with the opportunity to enjoy amenities and commodities that are not easily accessible. César points out, “I think that everyone looks for better economic opportunities, so they try to find a tourist because it is very rare to see a poor tourist, a tourist without money or economic resources.”

Hollywood depictions are hardly far from the truth, especially in places like the Dominican Republic where American, Canadian and European businessmen frequent for cheap sex. In one documentary I watched a few years ago on sex workers in Brazil, one young woman commented that when white businessmen come to pick out their escorts “they always look for the darkest girls.” They aren’t the only ones. Black American men are all too excited (pun intended) to take advantage of the machismo culture that pervades Latin America for easy no strings attached sex and the girlfriend experience with ‘submissive women.’ Ignorantly happy to have women at their beck and call without a clue of the system that forces these life choices on them. One Dominican man in Santo Domingo pointed out a young lady that came in the store to use the phone, a friend of his, he’s known for many years. He said “prostituta.” I said that’s not funny. He said he wasn’t kidding and went on to tell me how she had three children by three different men. He explained she wasn’t what you think of when you visualize a prostitute, she doesn’t stand on the corner, she gets leads from others about men who ‘want to have a good time for the night’ via phone, she goes home, takes a shower and meets the man. He said even women who go to college engage in this practice because there are no opportunities, no jobs, especially for women. A lot of men do not take care of their children, thus the decision for fast money to feed the kids society told the woman to have for the man you are groomed your whole life to cater and submit to because you are dependent on them to be providers. However said “provider” habitually abandon their families. See how this ugly cycle works? And foreign men are happy to fill the need. An American visa is the ultimate prize but money will do. As one Dominican woman pointed out “here, it’s all about money.”

I witnessed this exchange of services in Colombia, Brazil, along with the aforementioned Dominican Republic, all the top most visited places for sex tourism. We all saw this play out in last year’s CIA-prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia. Upon seeing a news report on it, my friend asked how much could the escort have possibly asked for. I said “it couldn’t have been more than 50 U.S.” And that’s approximately the going rate for a night. In Honduras it is normal for the ‘fee’ to be asked as “cab fare.” The CIA story took a lot of plot twists and turns but it speaks to the larger issue of (even more) Western exploitation in so-called developing nations. Many would say, it is the men and women’s choice to engage in sex work so why blame foreigners? Locals are only supplying demand. One colleague told me one of her professors even went as far to say sex tourism is “good for women, because at least wealthy Americans and Europeans can help bring money into their economy and provide them with work.”

Yes. That happened.

As the definition illustrates of female sex tourism,  which is also applicable to male sex tourism, it “occurs when Western women travel to developing countries in order to gain sexual or romantic favors that are scarce or not available to them in their own country.”

Now. ‘scarce or not available to them.’

I’d like to add ‘may not be readily accepted by their society.’ We cannot gloss over the glaring class and color factors that are at play here.

White men and women from the middle and upper class seeking company from brown people outside of their class and respective countries to fulfill some sort of fantasy that would be taboo to carry out in plain view of their family, friends, and clergy.  Rush Limbaugh knew the deal and he as well as many others who look like him are contributing to the notion of the archaic hyper-sexualized brown body that has pervaded since Europe decided to impose and conquer these brown countries in the first place. Good enough to rape, pillage and plunder but not much else. The sexualization does go both ways in a form that goes beyond an attraction but rather an idolization of whiteness “An essential component of the attraction found in a foreigner is their skin color, their whiteness, their straight hair and Anglo-Saxon facial features...Traits that are more commonly associated with Anglo-Saxons (fair skin, straight hair, small nose and mouth, big eyes) are desired. Young adolescents on the island have made it a pastime to gather in groups and go to nearby beaches to observe tourists taking sunbaths topless. “Men love to watch white women. I think it’s because of their skin color, their hair, because they like to wear bikinis and get tanned in the beach. In general, it is nice to see them” (interview C. R., May 8, 2002). Hop a plane, get to the lands of the mandigos and hottentots, go wild, have a great story to tell the guys and the gals with no real investment in the country. Exploit accomplished.

50SHADESOFBLACK.COM explores issues of race, skin tone, beauty, and the formation of identity from a global perspective.  This is the fourth of a series of posts to 50SHADESOFBLACK.COM by our featured guest blogger, Dash Harris.

She attended Temple University for broadcast journalism, business & French. Dash is the owner of In.A.Dash.Media, a multi-media & video production company. She is currently working on Negro, a docu-series about Latino identity, the color complex, colonialism & the African Diaspora in Latin America. She is also a travel writer for Examiner.com, founder of Venus Genus, a website that empowers women by examining gender bias and female tropes and the blogger behind Diaspora Dash, a blog about the African Diaspora.