by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Police raided the Gay resort Joluva Hotel in Granada, Nicaragua, earlier this month, arresting the owners and at least one U.S. citizen. Details of the raid are still in dispute.
According to a Seattle Gay News informant, who asked not to be identified by name, perhaps 30 people were arrested in the raid, two of them Americans. In addition to arresting the hotel owners, staff, and guests, police 'stole money and took computers' from the hotel, our informant said.
The individual said he has lived in Nicaragua for the past year, and was in Granada at the time of the raid but 'I decided to get the hell out,' and is now back in Seattle.
State Department spokesperson Noel Clay confirmed the raid, but told SGN on March 21 that only one American had been taken into custody.
'A U.S. citizen has been arrested and is being provided consular services, but due to privacy concerns we can't comment further,' Clay said.
He declined to identify the American or say how he is being charged.
Among those arrested were the Belgian owners, Francis DeFranco and Jan Van Den Broek, who had hoped to make the hotel the centerpiece of Nicaragua's first Gay resort community.
According to the English-language newspaper Nicaragua Dispatch, only five people were arrested: DeFranco, Van Den Broek, a 55-year-old Canadian, a 65-year-old U.S. citizen, and the hotel's 18-year-old Nicaraguan bartender.
The discrepancies in the number of people arrested may be due to the fact that some individuals connected with the hotel were reportedly arrested in other locations. SGN's informant says an American friend of his was arrested at his business in Granada.
Our informant also expressed fear for friends remaining in Nicaragua.
'We don't know how wide a net they're going to cast,' he said. 'I have friends there who are in hiding. As of the last email I have, they haven't gone out very much.'
Friends of our informant who were also contacted by SGN declined to be interviewed for this story, one of them in a tone approaching panic. He was still in Nicaragua, he said in an email, and he could not risk calling attention to himself.
'This is an investigation that's still in process,' according to Granada police chief Horacio Sobalvarro.
Sobalvarro added that police are also investigating 'three or four' other cases of hotels allegedly exploiting minors in Granada. Those cases could also result in raids in the coming weeks, the police chief said, but they are run by Nicaraguans.
All five men identified by the Nicaraguan Dispatch are being held under so-called 'preventive prison sentences' while they await trial on charges of promoting tourism for the purpose of sexual exploitation, pornography, and sexual abuse, according to Granada police.
'We can't say that the tourists came with this intention, but the owners of the business did,' Sobalvarro told the Nicaragua Dispatch.
The defendants' Nicaraguan attorney says that prosecutors have not presented any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Police say they have testimony from five Nicaraguan boys, ages 14-17, who claim they were exploited at the hotel.
No one claimed to have been raped, but the alleged victims did claim they were tricked, sexually exploited, and had their 'moral integrity affected,' the police chief told Nicaragua Dispatch.
According to the police report, DeFranco and Van Den Broek allegedly produced and posted pornographic photos and videos of Nicaraguan boys on the internet and offered hotel guests oral sex with local boys for $20-$30.
The Hotel Joluva website made no mention of offering sex services, but did advertise 'spa services' with massages ranging from $20-$30.
Same-sex sexual acts are legal in Nicaragua, and the age of consent is 18. According to SGN's informant, DeFranco and Van Den Broek were scrupulous about keeping underage people out of their hotel.
'They're very careful who they bring in,' the informant told SGN. 'They don't play around. You have to be over 18 and have proper ID, They work with the police to keep [minors] out - and with the other hotels.'
This story seems to be confirmed by Michael Alan on his Gay travel website TravelCostaRicaNow.com. Alan is also quoted in the Nicaraguan Dispatch article to the effect that the hotel employs 'really cute guys' to give patrons massages.
'You can't even ENTER Joluva without a key or someone letting you in so people just don't come and go,' Alan says on his website.
'Jan and Francis weren't stupid, they knew they would have clientele from time to time who WERE of the 'sketchy' type, which is precisely the reason they had cameras installed and furthermore, wouldn't let any Nicaraguan 'boy' in Joluva who couldn't prove they were of legal age.
'I witnessed this a few times and it also happened to me and D'Angelo when we befriended a guy in Granada and invited him to our room for pizza. At the time, Jan knew us very well, but the guy still had to produce his 'driver's license' in order to come in.'
A long-time Granada resident who said he attended pool parties at the hotel told the Nicaragua Dispatch that the parties featured young men running around and exposing themselves. But the source said there were no minors at the parties he attended, and no illegal activity - sexual or otherwise - that he could see.
SGN's informant said the five boys who allegedly complained to police had been 'banned from the hotel' and might have been seeking revenge. 'Or the police might have squeezed them' to identify potential suspects, the informant added.
Our informant was puzzled by the motive for the police raid.
'The Gay community is very well tolerated in Granada,' he said. 'There are even a couple of Gay bars in Managua [Nicaragua's capital]. Daniel Ortega was reelected [president of Nicaragua] last year and he says he wants to promote tourism.'
'Jan and Francis wanted to promote Nicaragua as a Gay-friendly place.'
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