GRANADA—Plans to build Nicaragua’s first gay resort community have been suspended indefinitely following the arrest of the project’s two proprietors, Francis DeFranco, 50, and Jan Van Den Broek, 50, of Belgium.
The two men, owners of Granada’s Hotel Joluva and the nearby gay development project known as Club Alegria, were arrested last week along with two tourists—a 55-year-old Canadian and a 65-year-old U.S. citizen. The hotel’s Nicaraguan bartender, 18, was also swept up in the police operation.
All five men are being held under preventive prison sentences while they await trial on charges of promoting tourism for the purpose of sexual exploitation, pornography and sexual abuse, according to Granada Police Chief Horacio Sobalvarro.
“We can’t say that the tourists came with this intention, but the owners of the business did,” Sobalvarro told The Nicaragua Dispatch.
The defendants’ Nicaraguan attorney insists state prosecutor have not presented any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Police, however, say they have witness testimony from five Nicaraguan boys, ages 14-17, who claim they were exploited. No one is claiming rape, but the alleged victims are claiming they were tricked, sexually exploited and had their “moral integrity affected,” the police chief said.
In addition to allegedly producing and posting pornographic photos and videos of the Nicaraguan youth on the Internet, the police report claims the hotel’s clients would pay $20-$30 for oral sex. The Hotel Joluva website made no direct mention of offering sex services, but did advertise “spa services” with massages ranging from $20-$30.
The hotel’s three websites—club-alegria.com, joluva.com and gaynicaragua.net—featured racy photographs of skinny, young Nicaraguan men (of questionable age) frolicking in the pool in their underwear, getting and giving massages, and sunbathing in a way that doesn’t leave tan lines. But the content of those sites—although clearly suggestive—could hardly be considered pornography by today’s advertising standards (compared to a typical Calvin Klein magazine ad, Joluva’s website material was PG-13).
Still, given the nature of the charges being brought against the hotel’s owners, the website material certainly wasn’t helping their legal defense. So on March 10, one day after the five men were sentenced to preventive prison terms to await trail, the three websites were removed from the Internet.
In the absence of the hotel’s webpages, a collection of Youtube video postings for gay travelers have left indelible cybernetic contrails of what was going on at Hotel Joluva and its Club Alegria rancho retreat.
“There’s some really cute guys at the Joluva Hotel that give massages,” said Michael Alan, of TravelCostaRicaNow.com, fighting back a giggle.
“They give great massages and they’ll give you a massage in your room or they have an extra room in the hotel where they can go and give you a massage in there as well,” adds his partner, identified only as “D’Angelo.”
The Youtube video—shot on location at Hotel Joluva—leads the viewer to believe that the young Nicaraguan masseuses are jacks-of-all-trades, available to moonlight as tour guides or even swim instructors.
“If you want you can actually hire these guys to take you around the city,” says Alan. “So if you wanna be shown around, if you want one of these guides, just ask.”
Pool days were especially fun, Alan gushes.
D’Angelo explains that on Sundays and Wednesdays the hotel owners took all the Joluva guests out to the pool at Club Alegria, “Along with a truck full of guys and there is a big pool party out there.” Video footage of one of the pool parties confirms that fun was had.
A long-time Granada resident who has attended one of Club Alegria’s pool parties told The Nicaragua Dispatch under condition of anonymity that the parties were a little wild, with young men running around and exposing themselves. But other than the flagrant violations to universal pool rules #5 (no running in the pool area) and #6 (no horseplay), the source said there were no minors at the pool party he attended, and no illegal activity—sexual or otherwise—that he could see.
Sex Tourism Diversifying
Sex tourism is nothing new in Granada; foreigners’ sexual exploitation of locals has been happening here since about 40 minutes after the first Spanish galleon bumped up against the shore of Lake Cocibolca, nearly 500 years ago. Hotel Joluva, however, is evidence of how diversified and modern Nicaragua’s sex-tourism market has become in recent years.
Friends of DeFranco and Van Den Broek say their small boutique hotel was always full, especially with older North American tourists who liked the easy-going company of younger Nicaraguans—much like their lecherous heterosexual counterparts. As word got out about the gay times in Granada, Joluva’s bookings grew, the source said.
In addition to the first three homes that DeFranco and Van Den Broek have built on the Club Alegria property outside of town—a rolling and bucolic farm behind the Hospital Japon—the Belgium businessmen were also building a series of condominium units in an old restored colonial home on the corner of Calle Caimito, three blocks from the Central Park.
But what started as a legitimate business geared towards gay travelers seemed to be falling into the entropic grips of a carnally-obsessed clientele seeking to feed their lascivious appetites, the source said. And the Belgium owners, who have lived in Granada for a decade—long enough to understand the rules of the game and the limits of propriety—apparently did little to stop it, the friend said.
“It got out of hand over there,” the source said. “I told them: ‘Keep it under control, if you can’t do that then what are you doing?’”
The source says now that the situation is falling apart, he can’t help but wonder if the government of Nicaragua will end up staking claim to all their properties—four homes on three pieces of land that he estimates to be valued at over $1 million—if his two Belgium men are found guilty or deported.
At the moment, Hotel Joluva and Club Alegria have been closed by police order, Chief Sobalvarro confirmed.
The Granada police chief says they started to investigate Hotel Joluva four months ago, based on testimony from several minors who claim to have been lured into “weird situations.”
Police say the hotel proprietors were allegedly recruiting young men, ages of 17-26, and paying them 500 cordobas ($21) to come to the pool parties to offer massages. That alone isn’t a crime, but the chief said the police investigation also revealed the presence of five “victims” who “felt trapped” in the situation and claimed their “moral integrity was affected.”
When police raided Hotel Joluva last week, they took cell phones, computers, pornographic videos, CDs and CD players, USB and photographic equipment, Sobalvarro said.
“This is an investigation that’s still in process,” the police chief said.
The chief said police are also investigating “three or four” other cases of establishments that are allegedly sexually exploiting minors in Granada. But those ones, which could lead to raids in the coming weeks, are run by Nicaraguans, Sobalvarro said.
“Undeniably the increase in tourism here has brought with it this type of risk,” he said.
Granada is open to all types of tourism, the chief said; but everyone must respect the law.