While trying to make a routine departure from Costa Rica earlier this month, 65-year-old U.S. citizen Dave Strecker was instead handcuffed at Juan Santamaría International Airport outside the capital and taken to one of the country’s most overcrowded prisons.
The man known as “Cuba Dave” became the first person in Costa Rican history to be arrested for a relatively new law that aims to curb Costa Rica’s reputation as a sex tourism destination.
Through a website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel all donning his “brand” name, Strecker positioned himself in recent years as a go-to source for male travelers who were looking to enjoy prostitution services in Latin America.
But according to a sentence-long “Sex Tourism” portion of Costa Rica’s 58-page Human Trafficking Law passed in 2013, the country prohibits “making use of any medium to promote the country at the national and international level as a tourist destination accessible for the exploitation of sexual commerce or for the prostitution of persons of any sex or age.”
Strecker is now being charged with violating this law, Article 162-bis of the penal code, according to investigators. The man who helped sponsor the law, former Justice Minister Fernando Ferraro Castro, said the article contained within the human trafficking law is there to deter criminal activity.
“Certainly the country has to protect its image as a tourist destination,” he said. “But it’s not just a matter of image. Many times the activities of criminal organizations, or those who engage in human trafficking, are connected to prostitution.”
Strecker’s web page, Cubadave.com, has been stripped of its content and archived stories, now serving as a fundraiser for his legal defense funds. The site’s domain is registered in Arizona, which has led to questions as to whether protection from the United States’ First Amendment should apply. But Ferraro, who said Costa Rica will usually work with international agencies from partnering countries when it comes to the Human Trafficking Law, said that as long as Strecker is on Costa Rican soil, he is liable to this country’s constitution. There it is explained in Article 29 of the constitution that freedom of speech issues are dependent on the corresponding laws related to each case in question by judicial authorities.
“Article 29 of the constitution also has its conditions,” he said. “It effectively says that in each investigated case, authorities must try to determine the effect the speech or writing in question has on the society.”
Authorities had been investigating Strecker for 11 months before the Sept. 4 arrest, according to a spokesperson from the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ). Police confiscated a laptop, cellphone and digital camera at the airport.
Strecker’s lawyer, Alfredo Núñez, confirmed via email that the 65-year-old from the United States has been sentenced to two months preventive prison while prosecutors build a case, and could face up to eight years in prison if convicted. He is currently confined in San Sebastián Preventive Prison, south of San José.
“The judge took into consideration the possibility of [Strecker] fleeing the country since he has no roots in Costa Rica,” Núnez said of the ruling via an email exchange with The Tico Times. The lawyer would not comment as to what the defense’s official position will be when a trial begins, although the Costa Rican Constitution’s freedom of speech article likely will play an important role when being interpreted by judges against the 2013 law against sex tourism promotion.
As far back as 2013, Strecker received warnings from commenters on his website and Facebook page to tone down the nature of his content. According to a profile by the Miami New Times on Strecker, “Cuba Dave” was detained by customs officers in the Dominican Republic after one of his many visits to the island. Strecker also has spent a considerable amount of time chronicling his exploits in the Dominican Republic and wrote a guide book for single men visiting the town of Sosua, called “Cuba Dave’s Guide to Sosua, Dominican Republic,” which has been removed from Amazon.
As he describes in a 2013 YouTube interview, Strecker’s website contained photographs, first-person stories and updates detailing the legal prostitution scene in Latin America. In the video taken two years ago, Strecker estimates that he received 100 emails per week from men traveling to the countries and seeking advice on prostitution.
“One of the biggest problems here is guys come here looking for love,” he says. “What they really don’t understand is that this is a business. …You don’t come here to fall in love. You come here to have fun.”
Strecker first started coming to Costa Rica in 2005. Since then he has entered through the Juan Santamaría airport nearly 40 times, according to immigration records.