Seven out of ten of the top searched sex tourism phrases are found in Latin America and the Caribbean. I wish I could say I was surprised but I saw this practice firsthand during my travels to Latin America. The most jarring was in Utila, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras. The island was filled with blond, blue eyed Canadian, Australian, European and United States citizens on vacation who found a local to occupy their time in between scuba diving and extreme intoxication. I interviewed a few of the local men and they said it’s always been part of Utila. Their only options to attain a visa or to leave the country was to get a European, American or Canadian “girlfriend.” One Utilian spoke candidly that both parties knew exactly what they were looking for. He said “I would take them out, show them a good time, I’d climb a tree and bring them down a coconut, they really liked that.” Aside from the apparent exotification and sub-human fetishsizing that took place I asked the man if he loved these women, he said “Yea, I liked them,” to which I replied, “I have absolutely no doubt you liked them even lusted, but I know you did not love not one of them.” He shrugged and admitted he didn’t but there were no other options to leave the country. I asked him now that the locals do have a little more, not a lot more but slightly more options, why does it seem that the culture of sex tourism still flourishes? He said the women just keep coming. Other local men said the same. “
As Carla Guerrón Montero wrote in “Black is Not as Beautiful: Gender, Sexuality and Tourism in Panama, “Less common are romantic relations between Afro-Antillean women and white North American or European men. If the women develop steady family relationships with these men, and they stay in the Archipelago and provide for them or take them to their countries, people’s commentaries are less negative. However, women who engage in romantic relationships with transient tourists are criticized, particularly if children result from the affairs. Men and women view their relationships with tourists or resident expatriates differently: while men look for white women for entertainment, women look for white men to find a possible long-term partner (Brennan, 2004).”
The rotating blonds the local men kept were commonplace. The day one woman left on the ferry, another one replaced her on their moto. I wondered why it was mostly men who engaged in this, and it became apparent that it was more women who were coming to “vacation”.
Access to women that was formerly forbidden to men of color also plays a part, “with the onset of tourism, the steady presence of white women (and, more recently, white men) traveling or settling alone has generated transformations and new dynamics in personal relations and understandings of the body. There is a strong attraction toward whiteness in Bocas del Toro. The fascination includes the hope of maintaining transient adventures with Anglo-Saxons, but in some circumstances, the interest is in bearing mixed children. This attraction is assumed to be stronger than a person’s will, particularly in the case of men. According to Bryan Ramirez, a black man who works at the Bocas airport, “we now have access to white women. Our desire for them is so strong that if they sent us an army of white women [referring to the 1989 US invasion of Panama] there would be divorces all over the place.”