Prostitutes approach passers by with little discretion.
Marbella Town Hall is still fighting to install security cameras
At midnight the rich and beautiful start to pile into the restaurants and bars of the Muelle de Rivera in Puerto Banús. A young woman rests her daiquiri on the roof of a Lamborghini while she explains, with a foreign accent, just how long the luxury yacht moored nearby is. As the night progresses a stroll along the harbour front becomes more and more difficult as the revellers move between the sea and the neon signs of boutiques such as Jimmy Choo.
But this is Puerto Banús, a world of contrast. All you have to do is turn the corner into Avenida de Riviera to find a radical change of scene.
This is a different atmosphere altogether. Just a few metres separate paradise from the underworld. Who cares what it’s officially called: everyone knows the road behind the harbour front is Calle del Infierno - Hell Street. And you soon see why. Sex and drugs are openly on offer, with prostitutes and drug dealers approaching passers by directly. All of them. Even the couples walking arm in arm who quicken their pace, scandalised, having realised they have picked the wrong place for a peaceful after-dinner stroll.
What can be found here is not what you would expect from a luxury tourist destination. It’s not a problem of private morals but of public security; and a loss of prestige for a town that lives off its reputation.
Pimps in different guises, from street rats to the runners of select brothels, are always on the look out, and a night without a fight with a drunken client in search of a discount is rare. Muscle-bound gym addicts turned security guards; hawkers with fake goods in the doorways of the very shops that sell the originals; dealers offering a wide range of designer drugs; and general troublemakers all complete the unsavoury scene.
Amanda (not her real name, of course) is a Colombian prostitute. She charges 150 euros for half an hour, half the tariff of her ‘colleagues’ from Eastern Europe. “Blonde sells, you see”, she explains. But at four o’clock in the morning even the blondes lower their prices: 100 or 150 euros are enough, although in many cases they approach the drunk British tourists simply to steal their wallets rather than to invite them to bed. Sometimes the victim doesn’t notice he is being robbed. But if he does and reacts with violence, he risks finding himself face to face with a pimp who suddenly appears from round the corner. Fists and knives are produced all too quickly in the early hours of the morning. And in a busy street it’s not just those involved in fight who are at risk.
This is where another problem comes in. When the visitor, who has by now realised that he is in the wrong place, wants to leave ‘Hell Street’, he finds the exits blocked. Tables and chairs full of customers occupy the pavements that ought to provide an escape route. Municipal bylaws are the last rules people abide by here. Many of the establishments fail to comply with fire regulations, occupy too much of the pavement with their terraces, are not soundproofed and fail to close at the established times.
Meanwhile inside the bars, scantily clad dancers make clients thirsty, and drinks flow at eight euros a go. Drug dealers wait outside for people as they leave, muttering a discreet “¿quieres?” apparently to the back of the necks of potential customers. The street is pedestrianised so they have every chance of escaping if the police do appear. In the early hours of a Saturday or Sunday morning there can be thousands of people milling around in Puerto Banús, making a police chase on foot much more complicated.
However the insecurity problems in Puerto Banús, which have raised concern among shopkeepers, politicians and residents who are keen to return to the image of luxurious holiday fun that Marbella was once famous for, have not appeared in recent months or even in recent years.
Prostitution, drugs, under age drinking or the incompliance with municipal bylaws in terms of closing times, noise pollution, or occupation of pavements have always existed in Puerto Banús, but it is only now that they have come out into the open and have reached levels that are becoming difficult to tolerate. On the surface the problem affects the area’s image as a luxury tourist destination and in the long term it leads to a fall in the volume of sales in local businesses and a decrease in citizen security. This is just one more sign of the poisoned legacy left to the town in recent years.
Methods used during the early GIL years managed to keep this type of activity from the eyes of the tourists, although they failed to wipe it out altogether. Then a Town Hall more interested in its own private business left Banús to its fate.
Restoring the minimum order necessary to ensure that the most prestigious area of Marbella does not lose its good name altogether will most definitely take its time. Nevertheless a simple stroll through the area at night is enough for anyone to perceive that urgent measures are needed.