Gang Tours of Panama

Until recently, Jaffet and Antonio, two of the founders of Fortaleza Tours in Panama City, may have been the gang members who robbed you if you were brazen enough to step foot on their turf — the city’s historic Casco Viejo district, which for about a quarter century was considered a “red zone” for tourists. But now, in search of a better life for themselves, their families and their neighborhood, they’ve made a business out of providing tourists with a guided tour of where all the drug trafficking and murder used to take place in this area (both have dropped precipitously over the last few years). It is, of course, an odd feeling to spend a few hours hearing tales of brutal gangland violence in front of the very people whose lives were terrorized by it (and from the mouths of a couple of guys who participated in it). But Jaffet and Antonio swear it’s for a good cause and in the pursuit of positive change. MEL Films recently tagged along for one of their tours to get a better sense of how profiting off a neighborhood’s tortured recent past is the best way to a brighter future.

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