A Fuerza Pública official said that a Saturday night lockdown of the Del Rey and its Key Largo dance club was an operation to attack sexual exploitation.
The director of Fundación Rahab, which had volunteers involved in the police action, said the goal was to let the working women know about the Christian organization and to make sure they were treated correctly. She said the action was directed by the Judicial Investigating Organization.
The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the police task force was assembled by the Dirección General de Migración to look for illegal immigrants.
In all cases, spokesmen at the agencies were visibly nervous that reporters were asking about the role of the non-profit foundation in a police operation.
Saturday night dozens of police officers and a handful of Rahab volunteers in pink shirts and body armor entered the Del Rey at Avenida Primera and Calle 9 and the Key Largo across the street. Women there, including bartenders, were forced to fill out some form of questionnaire and participate in individual interviews with female police officers. The names of the men present were taken down, too.
At the Key Largo about 50 men were detained for three hours in one room while women there were questioned in another. The information comes from expats who were present.
Raúl Rivera Bonilla, regional director for the Fuerza Pública in San José, said the police action was to attack sexual exploitation. He said three men were arrested, but not at the expat watering holes. A similar sweep took place at Parque Central and Parque la Merced at the same time, he said. The arrests took place on public streets, and the men were held because they either were the subject of a warrant or possessed drugs, he said.
Rivera asked a reporter not to mention the presence of Rahab volunteers. After being told that this information already had been published, he said the the foundation collaborates with the Fuerza Pública.
Mariliana Morales, director of Fundación Rahab, sounded surprised when a reporter asked her by telephone about her foundation’s involvement in the police action. She said her foundation’s role in the operation was to take advantage of the situation to check on the women who frequent the Del Rey to make sure they are treated correctly. She declined to discuss the questionnaire the women were made to fill out.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honored Ms. Morales as a heroine against modern slavery in Washington in 2009.
Ms. Morales said that Janet González, human trafficking investigator for the Judicial Investigating Organization, was in charge of the law enforcement action. But Ms. González would only speak through the Judicial Investigating Organization’s press spokesperson, Marisel Rodriguez Solis.
Ms. Rodriguez said that the reason the men were not allowed to leave the casino bar area was because there would be chaos if some were allowed to leave and other were told to stay. She also said since it was an operativo there was no need for a warrant because there were no searches or recording of names. She said officers only asked for documentation to make sure everyone was legal and not on any criminal or International Police Organization list.
Had the police action been an authorized search a judge would have had to sign off on it, and there would have to be probable cause.
Expats who were at the scene said that police compiled a list of all the men there, too, but the men did not have to fill out a questionnaire.
Ms. Rodríguez said what she called a sting is common in Costa Rica and such raids happen about twice a month at tourist spots. She clearly was at a disadvantage answering questions because she had no first-hand knowledge.
She also added that the Fundación Rahab works closely with the Judicial Investigating Organization. She also could not provide information on the nature of the document the women were made to fill out.
Rahab, which is named after a woman in the Bible, also is supported with grants by the U.S. government via the U.S. Embassy here. The San José-based foundation specializes in providing work skills to former prostitutes.
The information provided reporters Monday was different than that which was reported by the security ministry Sunday night. At that time a spokesperson said that the police action was in support of municipal workers who were checking on the business license of the Del Rey and that was why police officers and agents could enter the establishment and round up the clientele. The spokesperson also said that just one man, a person sought for aggravated robbery, was detained and that 27 persons, mostly women, who could not produce paperwork showing that they are in Costa Rica legally, were ordered to report to the immigration offices.