In an effort to slam the breaks on the proliferation of commercial sexual exploitation of minors and prevent Granada from becoming a destination of ill repute, local business owners and government authorities are teaming up to build a firewall against sex predators and other lecherous gadabouts.
Over the past two years, 288 tourism businesses in Granada have signed a code of conduct asserting that their establishment does not tolerate the commercial sexual exploitation of minors. Now business leaders are trying to give that commitment some fangs by implementing a “protocol for action” to establish a clear set of steps to follow anytime hotel administrators, desk clerks, waiters or others in the tourism industry see a suspicious situation arise.
The protocol for action, a guide to indentifying victims and predators and coordinating a consistent response with police, is substantiated by Nicaraguan law. Nothing in the protocol is designed to promote vigilantism or discrimination, says Maria Isabel Canton, vice coordinator for the Granada chapter of the National Tourism Chamber (CANATUR) and general manager of Hotel Plaza Colon.
“This whole protocol is based on the law, we aren’t inventing anything new here,” Canton says. The purpose of the protocol, she says, is to create a firewall so that Granada can play a more complete zone defense against sexual predators. Otherwise predators who are denied access to one hotel or restaurant can just go across the street and nothing is being done to help the victim or prevent a crime. That’s why everyone needs to get onboard, Canton says.
Other Granada business owners agree that weak links in the tourism chain is currently making it difficult to combat sexual exploitation.
Evan Durand, owner of Nectar, a restaurant and bar on Calle La Calzada, says his businesses has a zero-tolerance approach to pedophile tourism by refusing service to foreign fogies who dodder into the restaurant with Nicaraguan children or adolescents in some type of suspicious relationship. But he says his businesses’ policy isn’t doing much to solve the greater problem because, “Those people just go to the next restaurant and sit down there.”
A more integral response needs to be implemented, Durand says, because “the situation on La Calzada has not gotten any better.”
The problem isn’t limited to the city’s center. Carlos Miranda, owner of Charlie’s bar and restaurant overlooking the Laguna de Apoyo in Diriá, says the problem of commercial sexual exploitation is also getting pushed out to the countryside where there is a much less police presence.
“We don’t want this to penetrate the rural communities where there are many more blind spots,” Miranda said at a recent town hall meeting in Granada to address the issue. “But where is the presence of the Tourism Police in the outlying communities of Nandaime, Diriomo and Diriá? We are part of Granada too.”
A community responds
During last week’s town hall meeting to address the problem of commercial sexual exploitation in the tourism sector, more than a 100 local business owners and representatives came to express their concerns and learn about the new action protocol. Also present were Granada’s mayor-elect Julia Mena, Police Chief Fatima Flores and the local INTUR representative, all of whom pledged institutional support to combat the crime, which has been typified in Nicaragua’s Penal Code since 2007.
The strong turnout among businesses leaders is a positive sign that things are progressing in the right direction, according to Rosa Castillo, the national coordinator for INTUR’s project to combat abuse and sexual exploitation of minors.
“When we started doing these trainings and awareness-building workshops in 2008, I would invite 50 business owners to attend a lunch in a nice hotel in Managua and only five people would show up. I’d end up handing out the extra food in Barrio Martha Quesada after the meeting,” Castillo said.
There was no food leftover after last week’s meeting in Granada.
“Combating commercial sexual exploitation is about creating sustainable tourism,” Castillo said. “Sustainable tourism is not just about protecting the environment, it’s also about protecting the lives of our citizens, who have to be at the center of all this.”
Now is the time to act, while the industry is still nascent, CANATUR says.
“Tourism is still young here, so we need to fix this problem before it gets out of hand entirely,” stressed Xiomara Diaz, co-owner of Garden Café and one of the co-authors of the protocol for action.