Don’t ignore Cuba’s role in human trafficking
Report says pressure led to better ranking in State Dept. report.
Cuba a popular site for ‘sex tourism,’ critics say.
Department says its reporting was thorough and fact-based.
BY FRANK CALZON
Continued international trafficking of people and the sexual abuse of
minors are two of the world’s most serious human rights issues. Last
Friday, the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the U.S. House of
Representations held a Miami hearing on abuses of human rights in
Venezuela and Cuba.
The inquiry was prompted by reports that in compiling its latest report
on human trafficking, high officials within the State Department exerted
undue pressure on staff to improve the rankings of several countries,
including Cuba, Malaysia and Russia.
At a congressional hearing in August, Undersecretary of State Sarah
Sewall defended the rankings saying, “We don’t comment on internal
deliberations” and asserted “the reporting that was done by the TIP
office and the team at the State Department was thorough and
fact-based.” Yet, according to the British news service Reuters,
staffers had come forth to reveal 2015 ratings were watered down in the
report issued by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in
Persons. Reuters cited an administration spokesman as dismissing the
allegations, saying “[s]ome diplomats who say that the staffers should
avoid acting like ‘purists.’ ”
The report is a tool used to shame governments into enacting and
enforcing laws to prevent sex trafficking and forced labor and
prosecuting traffickers. One of its unintended consequences, however,
was that when it focused world public opinion on Southeast Asia’s poor
records on slave labor and “sex tourism” involving the use of children,
many traffickers found a new haven in Cuba. Moreover, given the recent
influx of thousands of new tourists, sex trafficking in Cuba is increasing.
Sources on Capitol Hill tell me that the integrity of the report on
human trafficking is one of the issues that Congress will be exploring
with Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson, as
she now seeks confirmation to become U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Jacobson
led the negotiations to “normalize” U.S. relations with Cuba.
In 2011, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that Cuba was the
most popular destination in America for child sex tourism. In 2013, a
78-year-old Canadian returning home from Cuba was charged under Canadian
law with nine counts of child-sex tourism. He had pled guilty in 1995
and 1998 to possession of child pornography filmed in Cuba. According to
Canada’s CTV News, all of his alleged victims were young Cuban girls,
“some as young as 4-years-old.” It’s not likely that the substantial
increase of foreign tourists now visiting the island has diminished
human trafficking. Secretary of State John Kerry also should be
answering the several Congressional letters sent him.
“The perceived hit to the integrity of the 2015 report can do lasting
damage,” Reuters reported. As Mark Taylor, former senior coordinator for
reports and political affairs in the monitoring office, says “It only
takes one year of this kind of really deleterious political effect to
kill its credibility.”
Unfortunately, President Obama’s legacy is likely to be marred by more
than one instance of political considerations taking precedence over the
facts. Another manipulation of State Department reports happened in late
May, when Cuba was removed from the U.S. list of foreign governments
supporting international terrorism. That happened while convicted
killers of American police officers are still enjoying the safe haven of
“political asylum” in Cuba.
Diluting of the trafficking report was, without doubt, a concession to
the Castros. Democracy Digest, a blog of the National Endowment for
Democracy, observed that these actions “hardly assuage the concerns of
Cuban dissidents that the administration is downplaying human rights and
democracy as it seeks to cement its new rapprochement with the island’s
Revulsion over human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children is not
limited to “purists” within the State Department. It’s widely shared by
the American people.
FRANK CALZON IS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR A FREE CUBA BASED
IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
Source: Don’t ignore Cuba’s role in human trafficking | Miami Herald –