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Sex Tourism Probe Launched

THE scandal whipped up by an undercover journalisminvestigation into the off-the-boat, in-the-hotelactivities of a group of sports fishermen from theUnited States has prompted the Costa Rican TourismInstitute (ICT) to launch a probe of its own.Tourism Minister Rodrigo Castro said the country’sofficial position on sex tourism is “zero tolerance,”and late last week ordered the ICT legaldepartment to conduct its own administrative investigationof the incident.“It is not fitting for Costa Rica, from any point ofview, that we become a sex tourism destination… Wehave too many attractions and beautiful things in thiscountry to resort to that kind of market,” he said.HIS remarks came two weeks after reporters OttoVargas, of Costa Rica’s daily La Nación, and SteveWilson, of ABC’s WXYZ-TV in Detroit, Michigan,documented the parties of a group of visiting fishermen,called the Michigan Boys, late last month andearly this month at Flamingo Beach in the northernprovince of Guanacaste.Their reports exposed the illicit organization ofprostitutes who plied the crowd of sports fishermen,and documented the traffic of women in and out of some of the tourists’ rooms (TT, May 14).Wilson’s TV news program was a two-partseries that aired the evenings of May16 and 17, available online at Vargas’ articles ran the week before,available online at“WE had a report that this annual tripwas really sort of a bachelor party,” Wilsontold The Tico Times. “We thought wemight want to take a look at what wasgoing on.”The group of nearly 170 men arrived atFlamingo for a yearly fishing tournamentand was greeted not only by the residentsand workers of the beach town, but byapproximately 100 prostitutes, many ofwhom had traveled there from San José.Prostitution is not illegal in Costa Rica,but there are laws against the organizationof women for prostitution (pimping) inorder to protect them from exploitation.Wilson said his “story raised questionsabout the propriety of public officials takingpart in activities where hookers by thedozen were bussed in for the entertainmentof the group.”THE men represented a spectrum ofcitizens and public officials from Michigan,including, according to Wilson, ajudge, a police chief, a school board president,a sergeant of detectives, and a DetroitTigers baseball player.“The point is that public officials, allof whom denied having paid for sex, areheld to higher standards…” Wilson said.“They shouldn’t associate with organizationsthat do those things; it gives theappearance that they are in a place wherethey should not be.”Vargas’ reports looked more closely atthe law enforcement efforts of CostaRican authorities.“We agree that maybe on the part of theprostitutes there is no crime involved, butthere was organization and people making alot of money,” Vargas told The Tico Times.WOMEN were charged $200-300 forentry into the Flamingo Marina Resort,one of the hosting hotels, according toVargas and Wilson.They were given coloredwristbands thatopened the doors to themen who were theirpotential clients.Vargas said he andWilson have an idea whowas behind some of thatillegal exploitation ofwomen, but he does notknow how to prove it.Official investigations are alreadyunder way. Ana Helena Chacón, Vice-Minister of Public Security, said herdepartment is working with the prosecutor’soffice in Santa Cruz, which holdsjurisdiction over Flamingo.“This is the first time we have seensuch massive and organized activities,”Chacón said.THE Special Prosecutor for SexCrimes in San José, Liliam Gómez, saidthat since 1999, when her office wasformed, 61 people have been processed forsex crimes. Of those, 37 have been sentencedand the rest await trials.More of them were accused of pimpingthan any other type of crime, she said.Bruce Harris, director of the childadvocacygroup Casa Alianza, is gatheringevidence against the alleged pimpsinvolved in the fishing trip.He said he plans to use the tape of theABC segments, together with recordingsof three other recently filmed TV programsfrom news outlets in Spain, Great Britainand Canada, in cases his organization ishelping build against those who exploitprostitutes (TT, May 14).“THE girls paid money to certain people,and Casa Alianza has taped sometransactions. We will aid the prosecutorsand also police authorities in other countriesto bring justiceto the peoplec h a r g i n gmoney,” Harrissaid.His organizationhad beeninvestigating theMichigan Boysfor the past twoyears, but hadalways arrived on the scene after the fact.This time, there was a tip beforehand,he said.“We let La Nación know about it. It wasgood politically for this country that LaNación (one of the nation’s leading dailies)be the paper to cover the event,” he said.WILSON’S and Vargas’ reporting tacticshave come under fire from organizersof the event and one hotel owner in thearea. Niels Oldenburg, owner of theFlamingo Marina Resort hotel, said, “Weare totally outraged at the reports of LaNación… Certainly no act of prostitutionwas indeed visible or permissible.”He added that most of the fishermendid not go there for sex, and that the tournamentitself is credible and officially recognizedby the International Big FishNetwork.“It would seem that La Nación and Mr.Wilson have unjustifiably singled us outfor the purpose of creating scandalousnews stories,” he said, adding that he plansto take legal action against them.Wilson told The Tico Times that theFlamingo Marina Resort was “filled withMichigan Boys” and was the site of a partyon their final night, which he and Vargasdescribed in their reports as a “foam party”during which some participants took offtheir clothes.“I call it an orgy,” Wilson said,“…Naked men and women doing all sortsof lewd things while everybody cheered.”THE Macomb Daily News in Michiganquoted one of the event’s organizers,Angelo Nucci, as saying “(Wilson) alreadyhas his mind made up of what angle he wastaking on the story. It’s the angle that thisfishing group is down there for theseyoung prostitutes. That’s the furthest fromthe truth… This group has nothing to hide.This should be a story about camaraderieand fishing for marlin.”To which Wilson replied, “We tried notto be moralistic or judgmental. We ran thedenials of those (public officials)involved… I laid out the facts and let theviewers decide.”Sonny Kocsis, who coordinated theboat, crew, hotel and bus rentals for thetournament, said this bad publicity for agroup that spends so much money in thecountry does not make sense.“IT’S a shame for them to get slanderedlike that by somebody who lookslike he’s just trying to make a name forhimself,” Kocsis said.The tournament coordinator said hewas not aware of any pimping at theevent.“Every year when we have the tournament,girls come out of the woodwork –they smell money. Prostitutes are prostitutes,”he said.


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