August 17, 2005

Mexico tourist magnet Tijuana cleans up brothels

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - The Mexican border city of
Tijuana, a weekend playground for U.S. visitors, plans to give
prostitutes electronic health cards and regulate brothels in an
effort to clean up its gritty image.

Under a bylaw passed last month, the city is forcing about
50 clandestine brothels to meet public safety and hygiene
standards, like putting clean sheets on beds, or face closure.

"We have a lot of prostitution but few controls," Martha
Montejano, head of the council's health and human development
commission, said on Wednesday. "This aims to combat sexually
transmitted diseases and bring order to the massage parlors."

Prostitution is illegal in Mexico but brothels are often
left alone by law enforcement agents.

Under the regulation, some 7,000 male and female sex
workers in Tijuana, a city of 1.2 million people, will carry
health cards with a computer chip to show they have passed
monthly health checks.

The Tijuana bylaw is due to come into force in the coming
days, perhaps as early as Friday, and a team of 30 inspectors
already has begun visits to brothels, which are often thinly
disguised as massage parlors.

The bylaw is the first serious attempt to regulate the sex
trade in the city, which has served as a playground of bars,
brothels and racetracks for visitors from California since the
U.S. prohibition era in the 1920s.

Brothel operators back the measure, which they say allows
them to operate in the open for the first time, while providing
safeguards for both sex workers and clients.

"It makes it safer for everyone involved," a brothel
manager called Jorge told Reuters at a massage parlor close to
Avenida Revolucion, a strip of gaudy tourist bars. "The girls
and the clients are better off and it means the authorities
can't close us down if we comply."

The Tijuana bylaw, similar to regulations in cities like
Monterrey and the Pacific coast resort of Acapulco, has been
criticized by some opposition councilors.

"It's like throwing up your hands and saying that we've
been beaten by the problem of prostitution," said opposition
councilor Luis Ledezma of the conservative National Action
Party. "We think it definitely goes too far."