By Aldo Meza – Telemundo Investiga News
Manuel Zavala He has been transporting clients in his taxi for 32 years who want to visit the northern part of Tijuana, the red light district of the Mexican city.
“They come with wide eyes and a smile of where can you take me, what’s in Tijuana?”, He explains, “like when you take a child to the toy store.”
He says he has noticed a drop in the arrival of American tourists crossing the border in search of sex, but he says the business has not stopped. He has fixed customers who, every Friday, ask him for a service to reach the north.
Natalia, a 24-year-old trans woman from the state of Guerrero works there. She arrived in Tijuana in 2017 hoping to improve her financial situation, and sought a job as a singer-songwriter in a bar. Gloria Trevi, Mónica Naranjo and Alejandra Guzmán were never lacking in their repertoire.
Everything was going well: I had a steady job, earned at least $ 1,000 a month, and enjoyed what I was doing. But in March, with the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Mexico, nightclubs, bars, restaurants and all non-essential businesses closed.
Natalia was left without a job. He didn’t even have enough to eat. He saw no other option than sex work.
“I started doing it because the clubs were closed,” she says, “I started as a sex worker with the paraditas [así llaman a las prostitutas, porque pasan horas de pie] from Coahuila street. The streets were alone and we had to wear face masks, gel, they wouldn’t let us be outside and everything was closed, a desert ”.
More sex during the day than at night
Tijuana, a city of 1.7 million people where prostitution is legal, is considered one of the largest brothels in the world. Here nothing stops sex: not crime, not the pandemic.
The municipal government has registered more than 2,000 sex workers, which reached 8,000 years ago.
The border city is on an orange light due to the number of COVID-19 cases, which exceeds 5,600, which means that non-essential businesses can operate only at 30% of their capacity. Activities that concentrate a large number of people are limited. The latent possibility of going to a red light would force the closure of all types of business and prohibit all non-essential activities.
Not even that has stopped prostitution.
Before the pandemic, services were almost always offered at night, when the streets were filled with women stationed in the streets of the north. With the pandemic, which has forced bars to close and has made nighttime activity fall, now workers like Natalia go out to look for their wages in the sunlight.
“I get up at eight in the morning and start to bathe, to get ready to go to work,” he explains, “I leave my house around nine in the morning. I get to work around ten thirty. Sometimes we have to stop for many hours to go to the hotel ”.
15 minutes of service for $ 20
Silvia is an experienced sex worker. She is 43 years old and has been dedicated to this for 26 years. Before the pandemic, he was able to support a 17-year-old son, his mother and sister.
Since March, his income has decreased. He also started working during the day: he has more clients and avoids Tijuana’s high crime rates. In 2018 it was the municipality with the most homicides in Mexico, and last year it remained on the list of the 10 cities with the most murders.
Six months ago, Silvia had between five and eight clients a day. One of them was American. But the coronavirus not only brought infections: now, on good days, it has three clients. For 15 minutes of sexual service she charges $ 20.
The minimum wage in Mexico is equivalent to $ 6 dollars a day. The median wage is $ 20 per day.
Silvia is worried about catching it, but she has no other option but to keep working: “I have a lot of expenses and I am very afraid, but what am I going to do, I have to support my son and my mother, I have no choice. I can’t dedicate myself to something else and that limits me ”.
In Tijuana there have been more than 5,500 cases of COVID-19, but, according to official records, no sex worker has been infected. The municipal government attributes this to the fact that they do not come to be tested.
Thus, they are planning to test them in their workplaces to avoid a possible outbreak, according to Juan Carlos González, director of Health of Tijuana.
As a consequence of the pandemic, Tijuana saw a drop of up to 70% in the benefits generated by tourism, according to the state government.
Visits to porn sites skyrocket
Faced with this drop in the number of sex tourists, paid sex has opened up space on the internet. Pornhub claims to have registered a 48% increase in visits between March and July from Mexico, for example.
Clients seem to have replaced physical contact with virtual contact, and sex workers, who used to go out on the streets in search of clients, now find them online as well. Customers select girls on the internet and then date them.
Nicole, 25, has been engaged in sex work for nine years; now it is promoted on different sites on the internet to get clients and prevent its income from plummeting as in March. Most of them come from the United States: they are Americans or Mexicans who live there.
“For example, a gringo comes and asks you how much. And you tell him: ’80, 100 dollars, 60 very cheap ‘, and the gringos do not think about it and pay it, unlike the Mexicans, who always want us to lower the cost, “he explains.
Two months ago he caught the coronavirus, but he thinks it was at a party. He had to stop working for two weeks.
Like her, hundreds of women continue to walk the streets of Tijuana in search of clients. The workers of the Ministry of Health distribute face masks and gel among them, trying to avoid infections. They know that the activity does not stop.
“With the coronavirus I could survive,” says Natalia, “with hunger, no.”
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