On 27 December 2008 Curaçao hosted its second annual Global Nomad Salon. The event was organized by Janera in Landhuis Bloemhof and was made possible by Randolph van Eps, a partner at the law firm VanEps Kunneman Van Doorne, and the Fundashon Bon Intenshon of Greg Elias, owner of The United Trust Company.
During the Salon about thirty experts, all Curaçaoans residing either on the island or abroad, exchanged ideas about embracing the diversity of the island and how to combat its extremism in these uncertain times.
The constitutional structure of the Netherlands Antilles in the Dutch Kingdom will soon be amended, effectively ending the federation’s existence. Both the island territories of Curaçao and Saint Marten voted to become separate, independent countries within the Dutch Kingdom (status aparte). The remaining territories, Bonaire, Saint Eustatius, and Saba, will be given a new status (sui generis) within the Kingdom. These territories will have a direct tie to the Netherlands and can also have cooperative relationships with the other countries in the Dutch Kingdom.
The island territory of Curaçao has a remarkable diversity of cultures. The ethnic inhabitants of Curaçao—the Arawak, Dutch, Spanish, West Indian, Latin, and African— have created a rich heritage and thriving culture. Although Dutch is the official language, English and Spanish are widely spoken. The majority of the residents of Curaçao also speak the native language, Papiamentu—a Creole mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English, and Arawak Indian. At the moment there are around forty to fifty different nationalities residing on Curaçao. Despite racial, cultural, economical, social, and religious differences, these people have largely found a way to live together on the island.
Although Curaçao is a mix of nationalities, the African descendents make up the majority. Rising up through the oppression of the slave trade, the Afro-Curaçaoan people have established rich cultural traditions that have been embraced by both native and visitor alike. However, they also form the majority of the social economically underprivileged on the island
In the past few months, during the negotiations between Curaçao and the Dutch Kingdom, some citizens have demonstrated against the amendment of the constitutional structure. The outrage is largely caused over Holland’s insistence that, while Curaçao can be granted autonomy within the Dutch Kingdom, they, the Dutch, will still preside over certain issues (for example, criminal persecution). When Aruba was granted autonomy in 1986, the Arubans were not subject to this condition, and many Curaçaoans, particularly those of African descent, are outraged. Violence during the demonstrations has been escalating and the reason seems to be—but not limited to—racial hatred. For some Curaçaoans, the memory of Dutch Colonialism and its subsequent African slave trade is still fresh. Most Afro-Curaçaoans are the descendents of slaves who were brought by the Dutch to Curaçao from Africa, and to them, the fact that the Netherlands can still control some aspects of island life is reminiscent of the power the Dutch colonialists had over the slaves. As a result, many Afro-Curacaoans are clashing with the island’s European demographic, and arguing for more freedom. The Salon focused on how this amendment will affect the social relationships in Curaçao.
As usual Janera opened the Salon by introducing herself and talking briefly about the topic. Indicating that she herself is living abroad, she requested the local experts to introduce themselves and to give their opinion on the identity of Curaçao. These experts consisted of a former prime-minister of the Netherlands Antilles, lawyers, accountants, artists, entrepreneurs, an internationally regarded medical doctor, writers, managing directors of private and public companies on Curaçao, ambassadors of the Dutch Kingdom in foreign countries, a chief editor of a well known local newspaper, a radio commentator. Though all were Curaçaoan, those living abroad called the United States, the Netherlands, Spain, Rwanda, and Paraguay home.
Everyone introduced him- or- her- self and gave their opinion, either in Dutch or Papiamentu. Greg Elias said he feels that Curaçao has lost the once-tolerant identity of its society, and he expressed his concerns about the latest demonstrations against the amendment and the violence involved. He said that he has been reading and studying about other nations who have faced similar problems, but he could not find a solution for Curaçao.
Another guest mentioned that outstanding leadership should bring back the confidence of the society and help Curaçao solve these problems. Following that, someone suggested that the people of the island should be global citizens, living by international norms and values. Curaçaoans should listen to their fellow islanders in order to find a solution to their mutual problems. Guests agreed that it is difficult to create an identity when people are living in poverty.
Several guests said that Curaçaoans are not well informed on the issues of the proposed constitutional changes, and feel that some political groups are using these changes and misinformation to divide the people, presumably to gain support. Some of the Salon guests expressed their willingness to collaborate in projects to better inform the people of Curaçao of the constitutional structure and also to combat the poverty on the island. Others talked about forming volunteer groups dedicated to informing their fellow islanders about the issues at hand. Ensuring all inhabitants have equal and accessible knowledge on the proposed changes would help to prevent extremism on Curaçao, guests agreed.
It was clear that everyone had one thing in common: All are very proud of Curaçao, regardless of where they live in the world. No matter where the Global Nomads from Curaçao reside, they will always support the island and will always consider Curaçao their home. Janera indicated that everyone, no matter where he or she lives, can and must, in one way or the other, contribute to the development of Curaçao and the identity of the “Yu di Korsou” – child of Curaçao. Curaçaoans must say no to intolerance and they must create a sincere dialogue between each other in order to keep and to strengthen the proud, tolerant and unified identity of “Yu di Korsou.”
12:35 a.m., Campo Alegre, Curaçao. Young prostitutes walk seductively through the palm tree lined alleys and give naked dance shows under flashing disco lights, hoping to attract business. The crowd begins to swell. Men linger at the bar and cram around tables, ogling the ladies on parade. In a moment a man and woman lock eyes, and a connection is made. The woman swaggers on tall, skinny heels towards the man, her skimpy robe fluttering in the wake of her powerful stride. She flirts, he stares. An arrangement is made. The lady takes her new client gently by the hand and whisks him away from the bar before the two disappear around a darkened corner.
Campo Alegre (Happy Camp) is one of the Caribbean’s largest sex clubs. Made famous through its size and tantalizing selection of international women, Campo opened its doors in 1949 to control Curaçao’s rampant prostitution trade. It now houses about 150 women from neighboring Latin American countries. Also known as Le Mirage, the club aims to offer a friendly place for both the clients and for the women who bring them to bed each night.
An Amorous Past
The sex industry is nothing new to Curaçao. The nation’s spot as a Caribbean trading port has made the country a hotbed of sexual activity since colonial times. Sailors and merchants passing through found relief in the island’s array of alluring Caribbean women after months at sea.
But as news of Curaçao’s lustful romps spread, so to did the size of its sex trade. The government and the church believed that the island’s prostitution had to be centralized and controlled. They feared that such salaciousness threatened the island’s female residents. According to several public officials, Curaçao’s women should be protected from rape, disease, and unwanted pregnancy. Offering a legal sex trade in controlled, isolated environments would help curb the possibility of sexual violence.
And so Le Mirage, housed in what used to be an army encampment, was founded. According to Stanley Brown, a Curaçao revolutionary and publisher of the left leaning “Vito” newspaper of the 1960’s, Le Mirage was, ironically, largely funded by the Catholic Church, which wanted to “not only get prostitutes out of the city, but protect white women from the aggression of black men.” The club’s strategic placement next to the airport and on a remote hill outside of the limits of Willemstad, Curaçao’s capital, attempts to keep this business out of the sight of the islanders, and away from the town center.
Every night Campo Alegre opens its doors for an orgy of drinking, dancing, and sex-capades. Visitors enter the camp (which can be spotted from the outside by means of a giant, sculpted fig-leaf), get frisked, and pay a 10 Antillean Guilders (USD 5.70) entrance fee.
Inside feels like a tropical party: tall, swaying palm trees wrapped in strings of neon lights, rows of pastel-painted bungalows, and fancy lampposts create areas where the women can meet clients in comfort. A big neon Polar sign arches over one of the alleys, propagating the popular Venezuelan beer.
Foreign women of every shape, size and color stand at the doorways of their huts, in the open-air walkways, or at the bar, trying to catch the eye of a potential client. Some are parading in skirts, others in shimmering mini-dresses, see-through jumpsuits, and tight blouses. They lean against the bars, waiting for business. A wink and a whisper exchanged with a prospective customer seal the deal.
Campo Alegre offers a nightclub (Le Mirage Gentlemen’s Club which boasts a stage for the striptease), a “casino”(a few slot machines), some bars, and a restaurant.
The atmosphere in the Gentlemen’s Club is boisterous, lively, friendly and relaxed. Patrons are excited and eager for the night’s lineup. Women strut the room on tall heels, and appear powerful, confident, in control. By midnight, the club is crowded. Visitors walk back and forth, searching for a spot in the front. They are anxious for the show to kick off but are kept in suspense. The popular Pink Floyd song “…we don’t need no education…Teacher, leave those kids alone……” screams out of the massive speakers.
The tension mounts. Then, suddenly, the MC—a black man dressed in a neat black suit and white, shiny shoes, comes on stage. “Ladies and Gentlemen….I am pleased to introduce to you our first performer of this evening: Joanna from Colombia, room number 97….”
A woman in a white miniskirt walks up front and starts to dance, not in time to the music. She strips naked before swinging her hips around the pole. A few lucky guys receive free lap dances as Joanna makes her way around the room. A couple more women follow her act, before two males take the stage on account of it being a Tuesday—the only night when female patrons are allowed in. The house is now full. “I am sure most of these men don’t come to Campo for sex, but just for fun and amusement,” says Chris, one of the evening’s visitors.
Women who work in this government-sanctioned brothel have permits, organized by Campo Alegre, that allow a them to work as sex-traders for up to three months. The women arrive on travel visas and upon entry are issued work permits from the department of immigration. In compliance with Curaçao law, all intercourse is done with a condom and every woman is submitted to twice-weekly medical checkups.
They work six days a week and are required to be on site from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Campo does not take a cut of their earnings, but earns its money through the daily rent of the 150 rooms, the bars, restaurants, and entrance fee.
Carlos, a Campo employee, says the girls are allowed to stay up to 3 months. Carlos explains that, while none of the girls are from Curaçao, the majority of Campo’s sex workers come from Columbia “We have an agreement with the [Curaçao] government for Colombian girls. They are our preference.”
Though worker turnaround is high due to the three-month limit of the work visas, Carlos states that filling the vacant spots is never a challenge. “The girls earn a lot of money here in Campo, compared to their own country. In Colombia, a professional hooker earns on average $100 a week. Here in Campo they can take home $30,000 after three months, if they are good. The difference makes their trip worthwhile.”
During those 3 months the prostitutes have each other and the employees of Campo Alegre to socialize with. Ana, a Campo supervisor for almost four years, treats all prostitutes as her friends. She refers to them as her “temporary neighbors”
“Their stay in Campo is purely financially driven, to save as much money as possible,” explains Ana. ”Here in Campo they hardly sleep. They work, work and work…but the girls don’t mind. Back in Colombia or the Dominican Republic they catch up on their sleep.”
During the interview Ana gets nervous, suddenly realizing that she is giving away a lot of inside information. “Please promise me again that you will not use my real name in your article. The owner is a Dutch man who does not want any publicity at all.”
Though prostitution may elicit ideas of vulnerability, desperation, and sometimes fear, Campo Alegre is conscious to curb such sentiments. The club strives to provide the girls with a safe and comfortable environment—both to live and to work in. Security guards stalk the grounds. Each rented room has a panic button, and girls are free to refuse men if they so choose.
For $50 a day women are given a living space (which doubles as a work area) equipped with a bed, shower, and a TV, tuned to a porn channel if needed. Clients pay $30 for each session, which lasts about 15 minutes. A good prostitute has about 12 to 15 clients per day. “It depends on the girl. She can refuse a particular client, of course, if she really finds the guy ‘disgusting and unacceptable,’ ” says Ana.
“Some girls want to keep their door closed to black men, for example. But here they cannot afford to pick and choose; Curaçao is full of black men!” Ana laughs. Ana explains that, while men of all races are “serviced,” the women prefer American males . “[The Americans] do their thing and pay the sum as agreed upon. No hassle,” she says. Ana could never do the job herself. “I am clean. I work here and I like it, but that’s it.”
Studies have proven that men who pay for sex are seeking variety, something simple, and no commitment. Ramon, a Le Mirage regular, confirms this. He likes the ‘no strings attached’ deal that comes with paying for sex, and says that Campo is relatively cheap and clean.
Ramon goes to Campo “when the need is high.” “This is after a night out,” says Ramon, “after seeing attractive girls but not succeeding in taking one home. I think: enough talking for tonight; let’s go to Campo to find ‘a look alike.’ Here, I don’t come to communicate; just to have intercourse. It’s clean and anonymous; what happens in Campo, stays in Campo. If you see your neighbor, there is no need to freak out. The next day, everybody ‘“forgets” that they bumped into you. For 100% anonymity, you can also reserve the V.I.P suite at the back; you can drive your car until the entrance. No one will ever know.”
Clients of Campo span social levels: from casual laborers, construction workers, and fishermen, to businessmen, politicians and bankers. Ramon has his own company in downtown Willemstad. “Part of the deal is that she showers extensively with soap before having sex with me. I do not want to smell or taste her previous customer,” he says with a wave of the hand.
But, as Ramon explains, Campo can also be economical. “It’s a simple sum. Dating a ‘normal’ girl costs tons of money: first, you have to convince her to go out with you: When she finally agrees to meet, you want to ‘dress to impress,’ you take her to a nice restaurant a couple of times….and then maybe…maybe… you hit the sack together. No guarantees. Whilst at Campo, your luck is guaranteed, for $30. If the girl is good, you are out within 15 minutes, if not, 30 minutes. ‘Wham, Bam, thank you Ma’am’, I walk away, go home and I sleep in my own bed. Home sweet home.” Would he visit Campo if he had a girlfriend? Ramon’s answer to this question is decisive: “No. Taking that my girlfriend has sufficient ‘sauce and spice’ to keep up with me,” he smiles mischievously.
Many women in Campo are unmarried single mothers between the ages of 20 and 40 years old, who left their children behind in their country, with family. These women are selfless; opting to give a better life to their families by venturing into prostitution.
25-year-old Monica gives a face to this group. With her glossy black hair and fake, round breasts (“made in Columbia,” she adds), Monica is a Columbian beauty. Aware of the hardships that she has struggled with in her young life, Monica endures prostitution to save her small daughter from a similar fate. “I want to give my daughter the opportunity to go to university and get out of the ‘poverty trap.’ I want her to be educated, instead of working as a prostitute like me.” She has been doing her rounds on the Netherlands Antilles for the past two years, and intends to continue for one more year.
Monica’s first gig was in Japan, at the age of 19. She got there the same way she arrived in Curaçao—through an intermediary who arranged all the necessary papers. “After two years in Japan, I went back to Bogotá for two years during which time I attended a beauty course.” She then decided to come to the islands to help her mother finance a house.
Monica has a Venezuelan boyfriend who knows about her work. “He is not able to provide enough money for my family, so I will not quit Campo. One does not live only for love.” Monica keeps her earnings locked in a jewelry box under her bed, which is neatly covered by a blue blanket.
It’s 3 a.m. when a firm hand knocks on the door of Monica’s hut. “It must be a regular customer,” she thinks out loud. She opens the door to a client. Monica charms him as he restlessly asks if she is available. “Si, claro, mi amor, para ti siempre…” she lets him in with a big smile, winks at her previous “customers” and repeats that she wants to read the article when it’s finished.
Campo is getting crowded with loud, drunken men. The dance shows are over. The “ladies of the night” are parading around, winking at more eager men, full of testosterone and money. For the girls, the night is endless. They can catch up on their sleep back home, in Colombia.
For privacy reasons, the names are fictive.
Simone de Brabander is a Curaçao native, who recently left her position as the head of communications for a bank, to write and travel.