Colombia spent $35 million to organize the 6th Summit of the Americas, which unfortunately turned out to be a very expensive campaign to promote the country’s already-flourishing sex tourism industry.
“I think prostitution is part of the city’s culture. That is, a tourist comes to Cartagena and it’s part of his plan to look for company”
Gerardo Javier May / The Associated Press
The scandal caused by Secret Service agents over an alleged $47-worth of unpaid prostitution services has completely overshadowed the huge event the Colombian government hoped would showcase Colombia’s transformation, instead putting a finger on a very, very sore spot — the country’s massive sex industry.
While no official numbers are available, it is safe to say tens of thousands of Colombian women are making their money as sex workers. And as if that isn’t enough indignation for Colombia’s women, they have even become an export product and now a blatant tourist attraction.
The country’s poor judicial system has even allowed some cities, Cartagena in particular, to become a hotspot for pedophiles looking for exotic prey.
If Colombia were a developed economy and tourist destination with enough “clean” jobs and tourism attractions, the existence of a booming sex tourism industry wouldn’t be as devastating as it is now.
But as the country has only been in the tourist eye for a few years, most of its cities have not had time to develop tourism infrastructure and attractions to offer a male visitor everything he might want or expect. What is available — cheaply and readily — is sex.
There are plenty of women who have few options of making money without selling their bodies, and unlike the mainstream tourism industry, the sex tourism industry IS highly developed.
What is happening now is that the sex industry is having an adverse effect on the development of Colombia’s tourism industry, the country’s economy as a whole and worse of all the dignity of Colombia’s women.
Well-recognized hotels like Cartagena’s El Caribe or Medellin‘s Continental have become used to foreign visitors bringing prostitutes to their room. In some cases, the hotels even make money on the prostitution.
When I brought a newly-arrived Canadian friend to a respectable hotel in my city Medellin and asked for the price, I was told immediately, “If he wants to bring a girl up he’ll have to pay an extra 20 thousand pesos ($12).” I, being a gringo, can barely enter a taxi without the taxi driver asking me if I want to get laid.
Prostitution has become an integrated part of the country’s tourism industry. This must be stopped or Colombia will not be able to become a mainstream tourism destination and the situation of the country’s women in the labor market will worsen further.
Obviously, it is important that the national government develops a more effective labor policy that allows its men and women to get and keep dignified jobs. Additionally, the national and local governments must increase the effectiveness of their education programs regarding prostitution and provide reintegration programs for prostitutes who want to go mainstream.
The country must also continue developing the infrastructure and attractions that keep a tourist entertained and make him return home telling stories, not about how hot the women are, but how beautiful the colonial architecture is, how friendly the people are, how stunning the flora and fauna are, and how overwhelming the culture is.
But most important is that we, the people, do not encourage prostitution and that we correct arrogant, disrespectful visitors that treat Colombia as if it were a land of drugs, sex and nothing more — and its people as simply there to service their needs. We must be demanding the same respect for Colombia and its women as the visitors would demand of their country and women.