Curacao has been linked with prostitution since the days of slaving and pirates. By the 1930s, the demand for prostitutes among oil refinery workers, foreign sailors and soldiers had become so great that Curacao was unsafe for women who were not involved in the profession. Curacao was an island where sex was bartered and sold openly in the streets, sexually transmitted diseases were widespread, crime was rampant, and used condoms scarred the landscape.
Campo Alegre (Happy Camp) was established in Caribbean Curacao to combat the evils of prostitution by controlling it. With the approval of the Queen of the Netherlands, Catholic clergy, Chief of Police, Dutch Minister of Health, and head of US military forces on the island, in 1949 Curacao agreed to allow a single brothel on the island on the conditions that women were not abducted from foreign lands to work there and no Dutch nationals were hired as prostitutes.
For for the past 68 years, Campo Alegre has thrived. Today “Campo” remains one of the largest brothels in the Caribbean — and possibly the largest open-air brothel in the world. Located near the airport and close to Willemstad, Campo is associated with a huge green, leaf-shaped neon sign. The walled compound is located off the main road, and patrolled by a professional security force.
Marketed as the Caribbean’s number one “adult resort” for ages 18 and over, its website promotes between 120-150 girls from different countries, with many from Columbia. Roughly half of its visitors come to have sex. The other half appear to be tourists who are there for erotic entertainment, people watching, or beer.
“Many (working) girls at Campo are new to the business,” according to its website, and new girls are “always arriving” with a typical stay of three months. According to Campo’s website, most of its girls are Spanish-speaking from the Caribbean and South America. Most have lighter complexions than the Afro-Caribbean population of Curacao. According to Campo management, “white girls are more than welcome, but they never apply for a job.”
Despite its marketing as an “adult resort,” Campo remains a brothel and prostitution is its business. Campo girls rent their rooms at a fixed nightly rate (about 100 Antillean guilders per day/$56 USD) during their typical, 3-month stay. Girls are tested weekly for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV; their customers are not tested. The girls set their own rates and keep the money they earn, less what they pay for room, food, drink, and other expenses. The price for sex varies, but averages 50 guilders/$28 USD. Girls on average have paid sex twice daily simply to cover their rent. The rooms are clean, but simple with a bed, closet, small desk, bathroom and shower, cable TV, and a large red panic button to call security.
Campo Alegre Brothel
Most working girls appear to be drawn to Campo by their need for money. Many are poor and come from desperate circumstances in the Caribbean or South America, particularly areas of political unrest.
The United Nations (“UN”) has repeatedly and severely criticized Dutch authorities for its prostitution-related policies in Curacao. In addition to citing morality and health-related issues, the UN alleges that not all prostitutes in Curacao become prostitutes willingly. The UN insists there is an undeniable link between prostitution and human trafficking in Curacao that Dutch authorities are intentionally ignoring.
As in many Caribbean countries, sex trafficking and forced labor in Curacao are on the rise. While Campo may have solidified a niche sex market for itself that is supported by authorities, there are other locations in Curacao that unlawfully engage in prostitution without any regulatory safeguards whatsoever.
Now, it is not my intent to discourage travel to Curacao. Before you decide to cross Curacao off your “bucket list” because of its stand on prostitution, consider that it is not alone in its challenges. Fifteen other Caribbean nations are more or equally vulnerable to sex trafficking due to prostitution (according to the U.S. Department of State in 2016), including some of the most popular tourist spots in the region: (1) Belize; (2) Haiti; (3) Suriname; (4) The Dominican Republic; (5) Aruba; (6) Barbados; (7) Cuba; (8) Curacao; (9) Guyana; (10) Jamaica; (11) St. Lucia; and, (12) St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Curacao is a beautiful country and it could benefit from your tourist dollars. But as you would in any destination that has a strong sex trade and neighbors with poor or unsettled populations, travel smart.
Finally, you can minimize the risk to others of sexual exploitation in this lovely country by not visiting Curacao’s brothels when you travel there – not even to look. Every time you visit Campo, you support its sex business – even when you simply pay the admission fee to grab a beer. Campo Alegre is part of the Caribbean sex trade and according to the UN, that sex trade is linked to human trafficking. As long as tourists spend money on prostitution in Curacao, the risk of human trafficking for sexual exploitation there will not disappear.
Campo Alegre Website, referenced April 25, 29017, http://www.campoalegresex.com/start.php.
“Candy Store,” In Your Pocket: Curacao, referenced April 25, 2017, https://www.inyourpocket.com/Curacao/Dreamjob_73392f.
“Curacao,” 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
“Curacao Island, Caribbean-Location Review,” Single Man’s Paradise: The Real Man’s Guide to World Travel,” July 9, 2016, https://singlemansparadise.com/curacao-island-caribbean-location-review/.
“Curaçao Opens Camp Alegre Brothel,” NSWP, Global Network of Sex Work Projects: Promoting Health and Human Rights, referenced April 25, 2017, http://www.nswp.org/timeline/event/cura-ao-opens-campo-alegre-brothel.
Kempadoo, Kamala. The Caribbean: Gender, Race, and Sexual Labor, Chapter 4, Routledge Publisher, 2004.
Martin, Sabrina. “Prostitution Rises In Countries Bordering Venezuela As Crisis Drives People Out,” Curaçao Chronicle, January 26, 2017, http://curacaochronicle.com/local/prostitution-rises-in-countries-bordering-venezuela-as-crisis-drives-people-out/.
Navarro: “Notary Is Almost Ready With Requirements to Sell Camp Alegre (Brothel),” Curaçao Chronicle, May 13, 2016, http://curacaochronicle.com/politics/navarro-notary-is-almost-ready-with-requirements-to-sell-campo-alegre-brothel/.
Salhani, Claude. “Campo Alegre: Curacao’s Fantasy Land,” UPI International Editor, February 24, 2004, http://www.upi.com/Campo-Alegre-Curacaos-fantasy-land/89051077639204/.
“Sex Tourism and Trafficking in the Dutch Caribbean,” Curaçao Chronicle, March 30, 2017, http://curacaochronicle.com/judicial/sex-tourism-and-trafficking-in-the-dutch-caribbean/.
Silverman, Justin Rocket. “Curacao is a Dutch Treat in the Caribbean, Just Outside the Hurricane Belt,” New York Daily News, July 26, 2015, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/curacao-dutch-treat-caribbean-article-1.2301137.
“The Dutch State as a Pimp; Policies Regarding a Brothel on Curaçao (1945-1956),” ResearchGate, January 2013, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263126444_The_Dutch_state_as_a_pimp_Policies_regarding_a_brothel_on_Curacao_1945-1956.
Van Zandt, Clint. “Who’s Taken Our Daughter?”, The Abrams Report on NBC News, June 20, 2005, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/8289068/ns/msnbc-the_abrams_report/t/whos-taken-our-daughter/.
“Venezuelans Want Protection for Women,” Curaçao Chronicle, Feb. 13, 2017, http://curacaochronicle.com/region/venezuelans-want-protection-for-women/.
Feature Photo licensed by 123rf
Additional Photos courtesy of Campo Alegre