Trinidad’s illicit sex trade has spilled over into the sister isle of Tobago, with Venezuelan prostitutes being carried to the island by Trinidadian “businessmen.”
In Part Two of the Sex Sells series, Guardian Media’s investigative reporter Sharlene Rampersad visited Tobago over the weekend.
There have been numerous reports of Venezuelans prostitutes operating on the island, but most locals are sceptical of speaking to the media.
But Michael, a 37-year-old a glass bottom boat operator, did not shy away from questions. From where he runs his business in Store Bay, Michael meets and interacts with both the women and their “pimp”- a Trinidadian man- when they are scouting clients on the beach.
“Yea, they have been coming here for about a year. There is somebody who sort of controls them, and he would come and scout customers for them,” Michael revealed.
He said when the women are brought to Tobago, the man would rent out holiday homes where the clients could meet the women.
He said a Trinidadian woman, who he knows only as “Debbie” would bring the women to Tobago.
“Debbie used to bring them across regular, I haven’t seen her for a couple of months but when she bringing, is every weekend. There is another Trinidadian fella, when he comes, he would tell the fellas he have some girls working and he charging $400 for half an hour."
When he first started to come, he get real business from them boys...they were excited to see the Spanish (women.) If you hear them saying, “Spanish in de place boy!”
Michael said the “pimp’s” target audience is Tobago businessmen but said anyone with money could “get through.”
“Once you have money, you set. Is money they looking for not love.”
Asked if he ever had an experience with the women, Michael replied, “Nah sah! I have five children and eight girlfriends...my hands full all the time.”
Although Michael knows prostitution is generally frowned upon, he believes that once properly regulated, sex tourism can be a major bonus for Tobago.
“I travel a lot, and in a lot of places, sex goes with tourism. From time to time, I get the white guys coming up to me to ask if there is anywhere they can go to have some “fun” without their wives...that is business, sex tourism is big business. It’s now that they are coming to Tobago, but Trinidad always had it...when I come to Trinidad, I go with my friends and just lime at these “whore” houses, but it is something Tobago can benefit from too.”
He said the women would come to Tobago when business is “slow” in Trinidad, but Tobagonians alone are not a steady source of income for them.
“It’s like they work Trinidad first and when things slow there, they come to Tobago to try their hand here, but the business here for them wouldn’t be steady because most fellas have a girlfriend or two so they can’t give them business right through.”
He said the women are brought into the country most times via the ferry service.
“Although they illegal and don’t have a passport, once Debbie or the next fella pass some money in the port, they coming in normal like everybody else.”
Michael said based on his interaction with them, he doesn’t believe the Venezuelan women being brought into Tobago are being forced to prostitute themselves.
While checking other areas on the island for signs of prostitutes, GML was given a phone number a man identified as “Tony” who would be able to “link” Venezuelan women.
The person who offered up Tony’s number said he usually calls Tony when he is having parties and needs a “few girls” for entertainment.
However, calls to the number provided went to voicemail.
GML was also given directions to a bar in the seaside village of Pembroke where several Venezuelan women were said to be working, but villagers there said the bar was raided by police three weeks ago and is now closed on most days.
Police aware but detection rate low
Superintendent Sharon Blake-Clarke told Guardian Media that Tobago police are aware that Venezuelan prostitutes are working on the island, but to date, no one has been arrested or charged.
In an interview on Saturday, Blake-Clarke said, “We have knowledge that there are some things happening, but we have not charged anyone. We don’t have a record of anyone being charged, but we have information that these things are happening and we are certainly aware of them.”
Asked why the detection rate is non-existent if the police are already aware of the prostitutes, Blake-Clarke said unlike, in Trinidad, police have a hard time telling tourists apart from prostitutes in Tobago.
“Because Tobago is generally tourist-oriented, it is difficult to distinguish those who are here as tourists from those who are here to work as prostitutes...you will find it is a little more difficult to identify and detect them than it is in Trinidad because you are accustomed to seeing people of that ilk walking around and as opposed to being in Tobago.”
- by Sharlene Rampersad