U.N. lauds Cuba for its progress against human trafficking

Cuban refugees rescued at sea in 2014. (Wikimedia: Andrew Smith)

For the first time in a decade, Cuba permitted an inspection by the United Nations, which found the country is making notable progress in the fight against human trafficking.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Maria Grazia Giammarinaro praised Cuba’s “good practices” in combatting the global issue, crediting the country’s universal access to basic health care, educational and social security systems with reducing the social inequalities and vulnerabilities that can prompt people to flee the country and become victims to those who profit from trafficking.

“There is political will in the country to deal with these issues and, in addition, the authorities consider it of great importance,” the UN’s Giammarinaro at a press conference Friday after concluding her 5-day visit to the Caribbean island.

“In this country I can say that vulnerability factors are less significant than in other countries, where deep social inequalities or situations of complete destitution create desperate citizens drawn to traffickers’ promises of a better life abroad,” she added, without offering figures.

Since Cuba’s Socialist Revolution (56 years ago, today), Cuba has seen marked improvements in sectors like health care and education. Although poverty is still endemic in many communities, Cubans also experience relatively low levels of income inequality compared to the rest of Latin America.

But Cuba has for years been on a United States’ blacklist of countries failing to tackle human trafficking. Until recently, thousands of Cubans fell victim to human traffickers in their attempt to reach the United States by sea and land, eager to take advantage of the migratory benefits once granted them by Washington.

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Once the two countries restored diplomatic relations, the U.S. government upgraded Cuba to a higher classification: countries which don’t fully meet international standards but are making efforts to improve.

Without offering figures, Giammarinaro said there has been a decrease in the number of Cubans who embark on dangerous journeys to reach the United States since the end of Washington’s so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy. She said any measure to make migration safer and more regular “is a preventive tool” against trafficking.

Raúl Castro’s government, which says it has a zero tolerance policy for human trafficking and related crimes, hoped the U.N. visit would help clear the country’s name.

To coincide with Giammarinaro’s meeting with Cuban authorities last week, Human Rights Foundation released a report that indicates the country’s human trafficking business has actually been growing in the last decade.

“Contrary to fighting human trafficking, the Cuban government is likely one of the largest and most profitable traffickers in the world,” the report states. “What makes the Cuban case unique — and astounding — is that human trafficking is an operation run by the government through numerous state enterprises and often with accomplices, participants, sponsors, and promoters all over the world.”

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The U.N. rapporteur did concern about the rate of sexual offenses against minors, irregular migration and young people who migrate with apparently legal employment contracts who fall victim to labor traffickers.

She pointed out that while the U.N. acknowledges child abuse or exploitation for any victim under 18 years old, Cuba only considers victims to be minors if they are under 16.

“We are revising our penal code, and this is one issue we are looking at. But the important thing here is that irrespective of age; either minors or adults, they are protected, and there is no impunity. Offenders are always prosecuted,” said Isabel Moya of the Cuban Women’s Federation, reported CGTN News.

Giammarinaro, who said the U.N. would send formal recommendations to Cuban authorties, urged the government to adapt its legal framework to international standards to continue to combat human trafficking and related offenses, as well as define protocols to identify and assist victims.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com