A lite look at sex tourism ignores many important issues

Once again La Nación, the Spanish-language newspaper, has come out with a thin story on sexual tourism that fails to address some of the important aspects of this Costa Rican phenomenon.

A piece in the Sunday magazine attributes the article to Darío Chinchilla. He is a former staffer who now appears to be a free lance writer. Chinchilla in turn bases a lot of his information on a 2009 free e-book written by Jacobo Schifter, who now teaches at the University for Peace in Ciudad Colón. Schifter’s book is Viejos verdes en el paraíso, which translates to “Old men in paradise.

A News Analysis

Although Schifter also has written on male prostitution in Latin America and transvestites, Chinchilla does not address these social issues.

The article appears to be the result of some interviews with North Americans who were drinking at the Blue Marlin Bar in the Hotel Del Rey and several working girls.

Chinchilla does report on a conversation with a prostitute who bemoaned the influx of tourists at the Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia. She said that brought male tourists to Jacó but not to the Central Valley.

Chinchilla’s article is similar to a 2006 story in the same newspaper about which A.M. Costa Rica headlined: “Stop the presses! La Nación discovers Hotel Del Rey.”

The authors were Otto Vargas and Rubén Bonilla. Vargas wrote an exposé on the visit by the so-called Michigan Boys to Flamingo in May 2004 where some also met professional women.

Chinchilla adopts a mocking tone in some of his descriptions of the typical sex tourist.  They are pink men in bermudas wearing shirts extolling fishing, like Santa Clauses on vacation. They also are large consumers of Viagra. Others are in Costa Rica for more than casual sex.

They seek what Schifter called the fantasy girlfriend experience.

Chinchilla also cites research by sociologist Eduardo Mora Castellanos of the Universidad Nacional in Heredia, who said last year that there might be 400 sex tourists in San José on any given night. That is about 12 percent of the tourists in the city, he estimated. However, there are other estimates.

Chinchilla touches briefly on one of the downsides of la vida loca. The life of a prostitute, particularly a foreign woman, is anything but glamorous. They frequently live eight to a room in cheap apartments so they can accumulate money to send home. Then they are exposed to the drug scene, which sometimes steals their income. Then there are the inevitable children.

Although the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo conducts surveys at airports for exiting tourists, there are no data on sex tourism because tourism officials have not addressed that issue.

The Spanish language press almost always considers sex tourism as something that happens in a small part of downtown San José. Television stations have at least some stories on the nightlife in Jacó which has grown exponentially.

Chinchilla, as others have, notes that adult prostitution is not prosecuted in Costa Rica.  He also thinks that the going rate for a sexual encounter is $100.

In his brief article, the report has overlooked many issues related with prostitution in Costa Rica and focused on the North Americans. But, then again, so has law enforcement.

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