Editorials | Issues | March 2007
|Gays y la Policía en Vallarta|
Paul Crist - Hotel Mercurio
A group of Zona Romantica business owners and managers recently met with the new Director General of the Municipal Police, Transit Police, and Firemen, Lic. Luis Carlos Vega, to discuss problems and misunderstandings between the police and the Gay community.
Numerous accounts of police abuse of Gay tourists and local residents were reported to Lic. Vega. The area around Club Mañana seems to have a high incidence of problems of this nature, although the incidents reported were not limited to this area alone.
The area at the south end of Los Muertos Beach was also mentioned in several cases. Gays have been randomly detained, searched and robbed, on the pretext of looking for drugs, when no evidence that the person had or had used drugs was apparent. Several incidents of police officers detaining individuals, taking them to secluded locations and sexually violating them were reported. And in many cases, the individuals were simply told they were being detained for a "routine inspection," with no reason given whatsoever.
Police have also been detaining obvious street prostitutes, often involving underage individuals of both sexes, and male transvestites. Instead of arresting these individuals, they demand money, sex, or both from these individuals, later returning them to the street.
The problem has been serious enough that some in the Gay community have called for the formation of an organization to protect us from the local police. Most of us belive this is the wrong approach. It will not serve us to set up, or more to the point, exacerbate, an adversarial relationship with the police.
Furthermore, word would quickly reach the U.S. and elsewhere that "The Gays have had to set up an organization to protect them from the police in Puerto Vallarta!" ... this will have a very serious negative effect on Gay tourism and our businesses. The solution is communication with police leadership and insistence that our legal rights be respected.
Director General Lic. Vega made clear that the types of police actions described to him during the meeting are not legally permitted and are not authorized by the police leadership. He listened to these complaints closely, took them seriously, and admitted that he was aware of serious problems in the department. He has already made important steps to end these practices and improve the quality of local policing.
It is important to remember that Lic. Vega has been leading this department for only 2 months. He informed us that when he arrived in his post, he was appalled at the conditions and neglect he encountered. Among the problems:
Approximately 80% of the police patrols have no more than a primary school education. These are uneducated, untrained individuals, many of whom have self-esteem and ego issues, some of whom have alcohol or drug addiction problems, and other problems. These are troubled individuals who have been given power and authority, including lethal weapons, who lack the psychological temperament and education to responsibly handle their position.
The municipal police training academy has not been functioning for years. Police patrols are hired and put on the street with little or no training, and with no psychological evaluation to determine if they are appropriate defenders of public security.
Police wages are very low. Low wages, combined with poor training and education of patrols, and minimal oversight from police management is a recipe for corruption and abuse of authority.
The local emergency telephone number, 060, has operated with only 2 telephone lines, has operated from a pair of plastic "Corona" tables, is too closely tied to the police department (the result being that complaints about police abuses go unreported to police management,) has no system for recording emergency calls, and has had no one available who speaks English.
There is a complete lack of modern administrative equipment throughout the department. Reports are written by hand, with no computerized system for filing, maintaining, and retrieving reports and information.
These are problems resulting from years of neglect, and it will be impossible to correct them in a short period of time. However, police patrols have been advised that it is illegal to randomly detain any person without just cause. Officers who do so will not only be fired, but they will be prosecuted as permitted by law.
The Police Academy will be reopened within a month and all new police recruits will undergo appropriate training and evaluation, including instruction on human rights and citizen rights under the Mexican Constitution.
The emergency telephone number, 060, now has an English-speaking person to handle calls from non-Spanish-speaking individuals, and very soon, all calls will be remotely recorded and reviewed. The office will be separated from the police department, in order to eliminate problems of collusion between operators and police officers.
Nearly 40 police officers have already been fired during the past 2 months, for various problems related to their performance. More dismissals are likely, but the department cannot remove so many at the same time such that public security is jeopardized.
There is much work that must be done to improve the municipal police department and ensure local security. This work is essential to our local tourism-based economy. Without adequate public security for all citizens, our tourism industry will disappear rapidly.
In addition to the work that the police must do to improve public security in our neighborhood, we all have responsibilities as well. It is well known that prostitution and drugs are a problem. This is typical of all vacation and resort cities. But this does not mean we should accept it, ignore it, or support it in any way. Lic. Vega asks us to help him by:
Reporting obvious prostitution and insist that prostitutes be arrested and prosecuted.
Do not permit prostitution, drugs, or other illegal activities in or around your place of business.
Know the difference between legal and illegal acts. For example, 2 adult persons of the same sex may hold hands in public, may lightly kiss or show normal affection in public. Private sexual activity between adult members of the same sex is not illegal. Public sex is illegal. Even extreme affection can be construed as being against public morality, and can be cause for arrest. As anywhere, there are reasonable limits.
If poor lighting at night is a problem around your business, that area of the street will be attract illegal activity. We cannot wait for the municipal government to correct every problem. Consider additional lighting, and even video cameras outside of your place of business.
Underage same-sex prostitution and pedophilia get a great deal of attention in our local press. The result is that political leaders respond, typically vilifying Gay tourists and residents. While we know that the vast majority of these problems involve heterosexuals, and most often within family settings, most people only know what they read and hear... or only know what they want to believe.
Because we are a target for public scorn and blame on these issues, we in the Gay community must be extra-vigilant to ensure that our critics have no basis to accuse us. We all oppose these activities, I am certain. It is extremely important to take action to stop it, to report it, and to ensure that those who engage in these types of activities are not welcome in Puerto Vallarta.
Guide for Gay Tourists
The businesses and residents of Puerto Vallarta warmly welcome you to our tropical paradise. We want you to have a great vacation, and urge you to remember a few important points:
• The age of consent is 18 years old. If you meet someone and decide to go back to your condo or hotel, insist on seeing their ID. Child prostitution and pedophilia is a very serious crime in Mexico. Protect yourself and our community.
• Never carry drugs with you on the street. Mexican law provides very severe penalties for drug related crimes. It's not worth the risk.
• If you're approached by a prostitute, report it or leave the area as quickly as possible. The local police are serious about eradicating prostitution from our streets. Don't risk your vacation.
• The police may not stop you and search your person without cause. You have the same rights as a citizen while visiting Mexico.
• You cannot be stopped, harassed, or arrested for holding hands or showing moderate affection in public. But please don't do anything you wouldn't want your mother to see. "Sex on the Beach" is a drink, not a suggestion. It's also a crime, just like it is in your own country.
If you believe your rights have been violated by the police, or you need to report a crime, please call: Alejandro Gomez, a local gay attorney with years of service to our community: cellular, 044-322-779-6046.
You may also call or go to any of the following businesses. You will find English-speaking staff at all of these locations and they will be happy to assist you:
Hotel Mercurio 322-222-4793 (24 hours)
Paradise VIP Disco 322-223-3070 (open very late)
Liquid Men's Clothing 322-223-3165 (daytime and evening hours)
Club Mañana Disco 322-222-7779 (open very late)
Bar Sama 322-223-3182 (afternoons to late evening)