Combined police units swept the downtown sections of San José Saturday night and entered a number of nightspots, said the security ministry.
Among the places taken over by law officers were the Hotel Del Rey and its associated bar and dance club, the Key Largo.
An unusual aspect of the three-hour operation there was that law officers were accompanied by volunteers from the Fundación Rahab, who were distinctive in their pink blouses covered by what appears to be body armor.
Also unusual is that law officers sealed off the exits to the Del Rey and Key Largo and then required any woman there to fill out a form that sought detailed personal information. Then most of the women were interviewed separately by female police officers who went over the information in the questionnaire. Even female bartenders were required to do so, said an expat witness.
A spokesperson for the ministry did not have specific details on the effort at the Del Rey but did report that police officers Saturday and early Sunday were able to detain a man sought for aggravated robbery and 27 persons, mostly women, who could not produce paperwork showing that they are in Costa Rica legally. The persons with immigration problems were not detained but given, instead, orders to report to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. A witness said immigration agents were involved at both places.
Most of the women being questioned by police appeared to be Costa Rican, said a witness.
The police effort was in the San José districts of Hospital, named after Hospital San Juan de Dios, and Catedral, in the vicinity of the Catedral Metropolitana, said the spokesperson.
The spokesperson did not have a list.
There did not appear to be any arrests at either the Del Rey on Avenida Primera at Calle 9, or the Key Largo a half a block to the west. The ministry only provided details on the police operation after a reporter made an inquiry.
Some who were in either the Key Largo or the Del Rey objected to being detained. Police finished their work in the Del Rey at 12:30 a.m. and at the Key Largo at 1:30 a.m. Men were required to show identification but were not required to fill out a questionnaire, a witness said.
The police operation comes in advance of the U.S. State Department human trafficking report. That comes out in June. The Fundación Rahab receives significant grants from the United States to rehabilitate former prostitutes. The United States has been critical in the past of Costa Rica’s efforts against human trafficking. Involved in the operation was the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional, the tactical squad of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Also there, according to the spokesperson, were agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization.
The Del Rey is well known as a bar where women and men meet. Less well known is that a few male prostitutes have been seen in the Del Rey. However, the first floor of the hotel also contains a number of slot machines, gaming tables, a poker room, and an automatic roulette table, as well as bars. One expat who was there Saturday night said he was gambling and hardly noticed any other activity.
The Key Largo is well-known as a dance location. Saturday there was a live band in one room and a DJ with recorded music in another.
The Fuerza Pública periodically conducts sweeps downtown and sometimes targets the Del Rey exclusively. They seldom find anything amiss because adult prostitution is not prosecuted in Costa Rica and the hotel management is rigorous in checking identifications and ages of those who enter.
An expat who was trapped in the Del Rey Saturday night uploaded a video to YouTube. It is HERE!
According to the Fundación Rahab, prostitution is an expression of masculine power and is a relationship that is characterized by the domination and control on the part of who pays (the client) to use the body of a person (the woman who sells the service).
The foundation rejects the concept that prostitution here is a legitimate business, despite many persons who prostitute themselves willingly.
The foundation cites societal pressures and says that this type of work is against the fundamental human rights of a person to live without violence or mistreatment.
The foundation also said that prostitution is not recognized as a form of work by the International Labor Organization. The foundation’s views are outlined on its Web site.