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New documentary covers old ground
in an astute and compelling way

a review by Eric Jackson

Hidden Truths (Verdades Ocultados)
A video documentary directed by Rossana Lacayo
Gota Films (Nicaragua) 2003, 51 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles

Here we have an unglamorous look at prostitution in Nicaragua, which was presented at Excedra Books on September 29 by the Grupo Experimental Cine Universitario (GECU), the people who run the University of Panama’s Cine Universitario. (It was shown to an overflow crowd at this particular venue because GECU’s usual premises at the university are closed for remodeling.)

How old is the literary subject of prostitution? Almost as old as that profession itself. The word “pornography” comes from the Greek, meaning “writing about prostitutes.” However, this work meets neither the modern definition of that word nor any civilized legal system’s definition of obscenity. As director Rossana Lacayo, who spoke after the showing, pointed out, her purpose was not to be lurid, but to “show the hidden truths.”

Mainly this was a work of journalism about economics and culture, one that looked at the streetwalkers, the bars, the brothels and the strip joints and the various people, male and female, who work there. Yes, we also got the management perspective from a madam and a nightclub owner, and in one of the most revealing scenes, of a john.

The silliness of the male ego and the hypocrisy of Nicaraguan laws come away bruised and battered. The realities of Central American poverty --- and, although the subject is not broached, the attractions of CAFTA to many a US-based company looking for cheaper labor --- are laid bare for anyone who might not know. The unaware would surely include a huge part of the US population.

Though the documentary is not intended to make the subject look glamorous, the photography and editing, particularly of the opening night-time scenes in a red light district, make this video an impressive work of art, often a beautiful one.

“It’s an economic thing,” Lacayo said of prostitution in Nicaragua. Also, she added, it's a growth industry, one that’s illegal but tolerated.

The director described her own point of view as “basically for tolerance.” Restating the ancient argument, she asked “who’s going to throw the first stone.”

However, this showing took place in Panama, where prostitution is legal and not without problems. In response to questions from the RTVE public educational television channel, Lacayo acknowledged that trafficking in women, particularly from Colombia and the Dominican Republic, does go on here, and that the problems don’t end there. However, when this reporter put the question of whether she thinks prostitution should be legal or illegal, she didn’t hesitate to choose the former. “I think it should be legal, so the government can control it,” she said, arguing that regulation rather than prohibition makes more sense for public health and other reasons.



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