I Used to Terrorize This Neighborhood. Can I Give You a Tour?

After years of robbing people on the streets of Panama City, these former gangsters have learned there’s more than one way to shake down a tourist.

By | September 16, 2016

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.

* * *

This story is republished from MEL Magazine. MEL aims to challenge, inspire and encourage readers to drop any preconceived notions of who they’re supposed to be.


Behind the Scenes with a Narratively Illustrator

Illustrator Ryan Raphael gives us an inside look into his process when creating the art for the Narratively story Inside the Queer-Centric Frat That Dared to Question What a Frat Even Is.


Faces of Freelance: Meet Carolyn

An award-winning producer on how freelancers bring freedom and innovation to structured work environments.


Mission Impossible: Finding the Perfect Name for My Kid

A new dad on the nightmare-inducing challenge of coming up with a timeless but fresh, cool but not too cool name for his son.


Adventure Is in My DNA

A filmmaker and surfer proudly explores her Indigenous roots, and discovers that thrill-seeking runs in the family.


These 4 Women Are Taking on a Politician Near You

The coalminer’s daughter. The bartender. The police brutality activist. The grieving mother. Each looked at the man representing her in Congress and said, “I can do better.”


The Grieving Mom Fighting for a Healthcare System That Actually Works

Amy Vilela lost her daughter when she couldn’t afford the medical bills. When her Congressman told her he wouldn’t support universal healthcare, Amy said, “I’m running.”


This Ferguson Activist Wants to be Missouri’s First Black Congresswoman

Cori Bush is a registered nurse, a pastor and a mom. After taking to the streets to protest police killings, she looked in the mirror and said, “why not politician, too?”


How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Pulled Off the Biggest Upset in Congressional History

In early 2018, we introduced you to a bartender from the Bronx trying to pull off what many said was impossible. Here’s how AOC became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.


This Coalminer’s Daughter Is Mad as Hell—And Running for the U.S. Senate

Paula Jean Swearengin has seen West Virginia’s land exploited, its people fall ill, and its politicians do nothing. So she decided to do something herself.