March 2014

Black Doves

The history of the paid sex industry in Cochabamba has barely been approached and when it is approached, it is done very carefully. Imaginary historiography argues that during the nineteenth century, modesty, Christian morality, seclusion, the cloister, and the bulls were the exalted values from the local people. What has been noted is that purity, chastity, and virtue - a product of a colonial past subjugated by the church - dominated social and private life. Sexual liberality was not only socially condemned, but was also seen as a synonym for anomalous and even devilish practices. Among the people of the elite, such a conception was exacerbated even more, since the same sexuality was a taboo subject. So any practice that was considered “not normal” -namely outside of marriage- was classified as the result of a physical or mental imbalance, or as a perversity of the cherished values such as dignity, probity, and rectitude.

By: Walter Sánchez C.
Instituto de Investigaciones

Photo: INIAM

Modernity, which appears in the twentieth century, is what opened the door to greater sexual liberty. Product of the policies of liberal governments, affecting the separation between state and church, - which led to a loss of power of the priests in life and education of the youth - started two important processes which had a big impact on the conceptions linked to sexuality. First of all, the implementation of regulations made to regulate sexual female labor and, second, the claims of women for more respect, including respect for their bodies.

In other words, the liberal spirit allowed: (1) the "legal" opening of rooms where in women could carry out their profession and (2) claims by women with regard to the use and enjoyment of their body. Wilson García Mérida notes in his book, ‘A Century in Cochabamba’ (1995) that under the cover of the liberal government authorities, in august 1912, the ‘Café Cantante’ arose in Cochabamba. The café, located five blocks from the Main Plaza on Commerce Street (now Nataniel Aguirre), was a modern Parisian brothel, not looking anything like the underground brothels that already existed.

The fame of this place grew so fast that it soon became frequently visited by Cochabambinos, even by the elite.

Located in the heart of the city, the "black doves" fluttered through the streets of the city center where the elite lived, and generated so much unrest among neighbors and especially among their "white doves" that these people started to demand that the "black doves" move somewhere, anywhere else. Mario Lara Claros states, in a story called ‘A Bolivian Family’ (Century Publishers, 1988), states that the first brothel in the city might have been opened by two brothers: Salustiano and Honorato Negrete. After living many years in Antofagasta and Arica (Chile), the brothers returned to Cochabamba when they were in their fifties. To distract their pains and their first days of acclimatization, they encouraged a few pretty Chilean women to work in Bolivia in a bar they would open in the house inherited from their parents, which was located on Calle Aroma. According to the writer, this must have been were the first brothel in Cochabamba was, "El De Los Negretes." The fame of this place grew so fast that it soon became frequently visited by Cochabambinos, even by the elite.

Mario Lara Claros writes that when wives suspected their men were going to the whores, they would send their maids, dressed in mourning, covered from head to toe with black shawls, as souls mourners of a wake, to the sidewalk in front of the "business," with the custom that, when they recognized a frequent pattern of the man going there, a member of the family, whether it was the son or the brother, they would quickly go to the household of this family to inform about the activities of this man and put him to shame. During the Chaco War (1932-1935), the few brothels in the city closed because the prostitutes, in order to boost the morale of the soldiers, moved into the area of conflict. Antonio Paredes Candia, tells in his book "De Rameras, Burdeles y Proxenetas" (La Paz: Ediciones Isla, 1998), that in Villamontes, a city near the war zone, many brothels opened where "black doves" arrived with levels of specialization: some came for the senior members of the military, others for the aircraft pilots and of course, most decided to "take care" of the young recruits. Paradoxically, there was enough during the Chaco conflict that the prostitutes finally got some recognition, due to its public utility.

After the war (1935), when the troops of Chaco demobilized, many "black doves" returned to Cochabamba. The paid sex industry did not only return to its old habits but was also further liberalized. In fact, the war changed the concept of sexuality for many of the young soldiers, as the women were "involved" during the war, whether as a prostitute or as a volunteer nurse.

The revolution of 1952 incorporated the right of women to vote and thus other political, social, and economic rights. The revolution also lead to another phenomenon: a process of fast urbanization in the main cities. In the case of Cochabamba, it was accompanied with changes in the whole system of paid sex. Brothels that were, until that decade, located within the contours of the Historic Center, were relocated to more remote areas. One of those places was located in the southern area (in the outskirts of the Siles Avenue). It opened its doors as "The Pearl," one of the most important brothels until the late seventies.

Photo: INIAM

In 1985, with the liberalization of the economy, the paid sex industry started to increase again; it became more visible. The offer expanded towards discotheques, the well-known "American Bars," and the premises of massages. Also, a whole new system for the "services" started through the pages of newspapers, leading to the development of the prostitute not depending on a pimp.

In 2003, there were an estimated 3,300 prostitutes in Cochabamba, according to the website www.bolivia. com. From these 3,300, 20 percent of them were not older than 14 years and the remaining 80 percent had started their activities when they were a minor. An important element to mention is that out of all 3,300, only 300 women regularly showed up for their weekly health check. That same year, the city hall of Cochabamba registered 60 legal brothels in the city, indicating the existence of a similar amount of brothels who worked undercover under the label of a "club" or a "bar."

Currently, the paid sex industry in Cochabamba has become such a large public industry that city newspapers now have two columns advertising sexual services to suit the client’s "wishes."


Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas

Translated by Simone Batelaan

Calendario marzo 2014

Todos subtitulados en español
Lunes 10 de marzo – 19:00
“HOY” 2013
Martes 18 de marzo – 19:00
“BIGUINE” 2004
Lunes 24 de marzo – 19:00
Lunes 31 de marzo – 19:00

Lunes 17 de marzo al viernes 21 de marzo

Lunes 17 de marzo – 19:00
Joseph Ndwanye presentará su último libro
“Muzungu, le mangeur d’homme”

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