Highlights and FINDINGS

tourism: haiti and the dominican republic

We knew that sex tourism on the island would be very connected to general tourism, and both would be greatly impacted by foreign perceptions and portrayals of each country. To research tourism on the island, we explored travel brochures, advertisements, media and press portrayals of the countries, and some more academic analyses of the history of tourism on Hispaniola. 

Differences in Portrayal: Particularly after the 1980s, we found that there was a vast difference in foreign media portrayal between the two countries, and this has greatly influenced the more general tourism industry as well as sex tourism. The Dominican Republic is rarely associated with the disease, disaster, and poverty that almost always accompanies any mention of Haiti. The Dominican Republic is widely regarded as a beautiful and exciting tourist destination, while foreign travelers to Haiti most often go not for leisure but for service work. Sex tourism is largely portrayed following the same trend: sex tourism in the Dominican Republic is often seen as a fun, consensual, mutually-pleasing activity, while sex tourism in Haiti is most often seen as exploitative and abusive.

Haiti's Gay Sex Tourism: Between the 1960s and 1980s, gay sex tourism in Haiti flourished. Haiti is praised and enthusiastically recommended in a number of gay culture publications, such as the Spartacus International Gay Guide and The Advocate, as "a place where all your fantasies come true" (The Advocate). In 1984, a scientific paper entitled "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: Specific Aspects of the Disease in Haiti" was published with study of the AIDS epidemic that linked the spread of the virus to sexual encounters between North American tourists and Haitian sex workers. In the years following, tourism as a whole greatly diminished in Haiti.

Club Med and Other Resorts: Though tourism in Haiti has greatly decreased since the AIDS epidemic, tourism in the Dominican Republic currently is as strong as ever. While Club Med's Haitian resort closed its doors in 1987 (only seven years after its opening on January 20, 1980), Club Med Punta Cana remained open and even received a $40 million renovation and revamp in 2007. Following this trend, we found in our research that many resorts, and a number of erotic resorts offering escorts as part of their all-inclusive packages, have opened in the Dominican Republic, while we found none in Haiti. The majority of the current most popular erotic resorts in the Dominican Republic were established between 2004 and 2007.

Health: haiti and the dominican republic

At first, health may not seem very related to the tourism industrybut when sexual contact is part of tourism, the potential health hazards that may stem from this practice multiply exponentially. In recent years, a significant amount of legislation regarding sex work has centered around monitoring the health of sex workers and encouraging practices such as condom use and regular STI testing. This is intricately related to the sex tourism industry in Hispaniola which is governed by these same legislations, and efforts have only increased with the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic.

Hispaniola, Columbus, and Venereal Disease: Since the "discovery" of Hispaniola, the spread of venereal diseases has been a concern of Western societies. In the revelatory text published in 1539, Tractado Contra el Mal Serpiento, Spanish surgeon Ruiz Diaz de la Isla divulges that Columbus' voyage to Haiti was indeed the source of the syphilis that proceeded to rage through Europe. This text is only one--and perhaps the earliest--of many that cites Haiti as a source of disease. In more recent years, Haiti has been accused as being the cause of the spread of HIV/AIDS to North America--one of the infamous four "H"s: Haitians, Hemophiliacs, Homosexuals, and Heroine Addicts. We couldn't help but note that we found no mention of the Dominican Republic in relation to these diseases, and are left wondering why that is.

Disease and the US Occupation: In 1919, Executive Order No. 338 La Ley de Sanidad (The Sanitary Law) formally banned prostitution in the Dominican Republic. This was the culmination of the isolation of prostitution as the cause of venereal diseases by the United States military government, showing the reach of the military and its effect on Dominican public health. The law defined as prostitute as a “girl or woman who is openly devoted to lewdness, especially for gain, or who practices indiscriminate lewdness, or who practices indiscriminate sexual intercourse with men, or who prostitutes her body for hire" (Lord 18). In 1922 the reaches of the Ley de Sanidad were still being felt in the Dominican Republic when the U.S. military government ordered a quarantine of prostitutes in Fort Ozama as an attempt to further regulate the spread of venereal diseases. In 1923 this quarantine was expanded to the rest of Santo Domingo and San Pedro de Macoris, though it was shorter lived in these areas. Towards the end of this campaign the military government experienced push back from the Dominican officials in charge of enforcing this legislation, revealing the toll that the occupation took on the creation of meaningful public health legislation.

NGO Support: There are a number of non-governmental organizations that have in the past or currently provide health services to Haiti. For example, GHESKIO (The Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections) was founded through support from Cornell University to combat the AIDS epidemic that was sweeping through Haiti in the 1980’s.  Centered in the capital of Port-Au-Prince, this non-governmental organization (NGO) provides key services to the population. Since its founding, outreach by GHESKIO has expanded to include aid in response to the 2010 earthquake as well as the cholera epidemic and other pressing health matters the nation encounters. As stated by Koenig et al. GHESKIO has been named a “public utility” by the Haitian government, a testament to their public service and impact on the nation. The model of care followed by this organization is centered around the concept that at-risk or already infected individuals who come to GHESKIO treatment centers should be provided with the opportunity to receive long term primary health services (Koenig 149).

State Action and Activism: Dominican Republic

It was interesting to see activist networks and state players engage throughout my research, and the large role that international activist networks played in shaping legislation concerning sex tourism and sex work. On the state side we looked at legislation and the establishment of different departments and local enforcing agencies that shape the way the state engages with sex workers and balances the importance of sex tourism within the larger national tourism scheme.

Child Prostitution: Throughout our research, it became evident that much of the legislation in both the Dominican Republic and Haiti pertaining to sex work was aimed at protecting children. International organizations like UNICEF were also very involved in this particular area of activism and legislation on the island. More modern legislation regulating adult sex work was few and far between.

Gendering of Legislation: Much of the legislation concerning sex work had language that skewed it to apply more to female sex workers; there was a clear link in the language of the Ley de Sanidad and the Red Lights District Bill. It would be interesting to explore if there is legislation pertaining exclusively to male sex workers, trans sex workers, and those of other gender identities and to compare that to the legislation presented on the timeline; it would also be interesting to see what institutions are cited in those pieces of legislation if they exist. Legislation also featured language that centered sex work around the family unit and its effect on that institution.

Urban vs. Rural Sex Work: In more recent studies, there has been an attempt at separating sex work and its manifestation in urban (primarily tourism) centers, where sex workers are inextricably linked to foreigners and to the overall tourism package – and sex work along the Haitian-Dominican border. In the border regions, primarily Haitian women cross the border into the Dominican Republic and engage in sex work with both Haitian and Dominican men. This manifestation also involves a transnational movement, and it would be interesting to see how activism and state action manifest and apply in this region. 

state action and activism: haiti

On the Haitian side of the State Action/ Activism exploration, we looked mainly at state action concerning tourism and health as well as the inauguration of different NGOs, looking at the ways in which NGOs have had to take on various governmental responsibilities, sometimes allying themselves with the Haitian government.

Sex Tourism Pre-WWII: The US occupation of Haiti beginning in 1915 laid the groundwork for sex tourism in Haiti. With the influx of American money and men, the common sexual exchanges that occurred between American soldiers and Haitian citizens were marked by deep socio-economic inequality. The WILPF conducted a study in 1926 in Haiti and found 126 saloons frequented by American soldiers that served as open places for prostitution.

Haiti and Black America: Throughout our research, the interdependent relationship between the U.S and Haiti became quite clear. Besides the U.S military occupation of Haiti in the early 20th century (1915-1934), the U.S was also very much implicated in Haiti’s national agenda to promote tourism. Under the Paul Magloire, and Dumarsais Estimé regimes, the U.S government cooperated with the Haitian government to promote pan-Americanism. In addition to the U.S government, Haiti was also collaborating with other prominent American figures such as Walter White from the NAACP. We were particularly interested to discover this sometimes omitted or forgotten relationship that Black America entertained with Haiti.

Interplay Between NGO and State: We were particularly interested to see how NGOs and the Haitian government respond to each other's presence. When the state was evidently strong until the mid-1980s, activism, in the form of NGOs, was quite absent. When the Haitian government essentially failed after Jean-Claud (Baby Doc) Duvalier in 1986, NGOs around the country began to emerge. The same interplay was also noticeable after the 2010 earthquake with the advent of over 3,000 NGOs in Haiti, which was complemented by the government's inability to care for its citizens in the immediate moment.