Like many Americans and foreign nationals seeking love and thrill, Minnesota comedian Tou Ger Xiong settled for Medellín, Colombia. He joined the growing wave of national travelers flocking to Colombia post-Covid, leveraging new digital nomad visas in a burgeoning startup scene. According to WSJ, Xiong was enjoying the second-largest city in the country and was "stock trading by day and fine dining and dance clubs by night."
However, just hours after Xiong's date on Dec. 10, he reached out to family and friends for a $2,000 ransom, claiming he had been kidnapped. The next day – Xiong's lifeless body, brutalized and found with multiple stab wounds and bruises – was discovered discarded off a 260-foot cliff in the lush, wooded landscape of Medellín. Xiong’s older brother, Eh Xiong, told the outlet, “It’s surreal that in a place so beautiful, my brother died."
Xiong is not the only man who has lost his life in Colombia after meeting a woman. He is among a minimum of eight Americans who lost their lives in Medellín during November and December, part of numerous incidents where male tourists were subjected to kidnapping and robbery, usually after finding local women on dating apps, as reported by local authorities.
So unless we warn "passport bros" (the term used to describe men seeking foreign women) of the dangers of pursuing partnership or sex in countries like Colombia, more will find themselves getting used, or worse, killed.
In some of the suspicious and harrowing deaths, American men were found dead in their hotel rooms or rented apartments after going out with the local women. The police reports state that thugs robbed and killed them on the street while they were out on dates. Others are suspected to have died from mixing alcohol with other substances that gangs had slipped into their drinks before robbing them.
Carlos, another American expat living in Colombia, met a young woman on a dating app. They had a glass of wine at his home in Bogota. The next day, he woke up dizzy, and his items had gone missing, including his passport and those of his kids.
Due to this spike in attacks against foreigners, the U.S. Embassy in the country issued an alert that urges U.S. citizens to be careful when meeting people through dating apps and websites. Unsurprisingly, the criminals have their sights set on many of these foreigners, especially those who visit the city in search of drug-fueled parties and sex workers. The city's top official who investigates citizen complaints, William Vivas, revealed that a fraction of the 1.3 million people who visited last year came for sex tourism. These visitors often hesitate to report crimes when victimized, as stated by officials from both the U.S. and Medellín.
Residents, city authorities, and longtime expats blame gentrification and higher costs of living for the attacks. Xiong stayed in the dangerous El Poblado district, where rent has nearly tripled. The city has often been hailed as a "paradise," but Medellín Mayor Federico Gutiérrez is done with the passport bros and sexcapades. “We want more and more foreigners to come, but we want them to take part in tourism that adds value,” he said after the warning. “Anyone who thinks they can come here for that sex and drugs tourism, we don’t want any of that here.”
WSJ reports that about 50 people in 2023 were arrested for allegedly working with criminals that targeted foreigners in Medellín. Last summer, authorities apprehended 14 individuals affiliated with an alleged criminal syndicate that exploited underage girls to make social media profiles that targeted pedophile men aged 27 to 60. The charges included stealing money and jewelry valued at almost $100,000 within 10 months.
However, due to the influence of social media, I fear that more men will follow in the footsteps of passport bros. Many men proudly share their active dating lives through Tinder and Bumble. Conversely, numerous social media accounts are dedicated to cautioning foreigners about scams perpetrated by criminals, particularly instances where gangs drug their victims to incapacitate them. Jeremy Kreisler, a California native in Medellín who runs a business that helps young digital nomads, said, “It’s become a significant problem in the last few years.” Kreisler recalled how one of his friends was drugged at a bar and his belongings stolen after regaining consciousness at his apartment two days later. He also noted a jump in street prostitution.
A content creator who goes by "Jagger" on TikTok calls out passport bros on the platform. "I don't know what to tell y'all, as far as you thinking that you were going to go to a third-world country and then their women like that."
He continues, "Going to a different country you've probably never been to and just trusting a random stranger that you met online is reckless. People get set up all the time, and that's what's happening. You're going over there with all that money – and they know you have that money. They caught on, and they understand that Americans are coming out here to look for wives."
"So when you come to meet that girl, they're just going to take your money and then take you. And if it started in Colombia, I'm sure it's probably going to start in other places, too," he adds."
"So I don't know, maybe just consider meeting women in your own country. Maybe that'll work, and you'll stay alive."
Meanwhile, Xiong's brother, Eh, performed a ritual at the site where his brother was found dead in Medellín. He traveled to the city to perform an ancestral Hmong ritual. “It was a little secluded, you could hear echoes of the water running through the creek,” Eh said about the location. “I thought, at least he died in a peaceful place.”
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