Human Trafficking Scourge Draws Attention of Mexico Government

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A Mexican judge handed out lengthy prison sentences to a couple at the head of a human trafficking network that sexually exploited women and minors, signaling greater attention to a crime that is increasingly common in Mexico.

As El Universal reports, Emilio and Maria Rugeiro Saucedo were each given prison terms of 37 years after being found guilty of running a human trafficking ring that sexually exploited women and minors in Mexico and the U.S. One of the couple’s sons is in custody in the U.S. for related charges, while another son is wanted by Mexican authorities. An unrelated member of the same gang was given a sentence of 28 years.

According to authorities, the couple’s sons lured young women from all over Mexico to come to the central state of Tlaxcala, at which point the victims were sent to Atlanta. While in the U.S., the women were obligated to perform up to 50 sex acts on a daily basis, the Mexican government says.

Traditionally, human trafficking in Mexico has been controlled by small, independent networks like that of the Rugeiro Saucedo family. However, as with many criminal activities in the country, the industry has increasingly come under the influence of organized crime groups in recent years. A report from the Washington Post named the Zetas as a group that is particularly involved in human trafficking, which fits with its reputation as one of the gangs with the most diverse set of revenue streams.

This industry shift has also been aided by the drug gangs’ greater control over the smuggling of illegal migrants seeking passage into the U.S., an activity that has a great deal of overlap with human trafficking. Because of Mexico’s long border with the U.S., its location between migrant-producing nations of Central America, and its own migratory pressure, the human smuggling network has exploded over the previous decade. According to the UN, the revenues of the Mexican “polleros,” as the illegal migrant guides are euphemistically known, are worth $6.6 billion annually.

Furthermore, greater enforcement efforts in the U.S. have also required greater sophistication from the smuggling gangs than in the past, when polleros were largely independent operators. This has also encouraged the incursion of organized crime groups, whose transnational networks and ability to co-opt government officials in Mexico gives them a significant competitive advantage over independent operators.

For the organized crime groups, bringing an existing pollero network under its umbrella allows them to increase revenues and expand their territorial control without redirecting an enormous amount of resources. Alternative sources of income are increasingly important as crackdowns from the Colombian and the Mexican governments have threatened the viability of many existing drug trafficking networks.

Human trafficking is often linked to sexual exploitation, but the crime goes well beyond that aspect. According to statistics released by the State Department earlier this year, 60 percent of the victims of human trafficking in Mexico are men, often Central Americans forced to work in southern Mexico. However, the child sex trade is a significant problem in regions with flows of international visitors, such as tourist centers like Acapulco and Cancun, as well as border towns like Juarez and Tijuana.

The State Department report also indicated that Mexican drug gangs are becoming more heavily involved in the trade.

Mexican officials have begun to place a greater emphasis on combating human trafficking in recent years, passing a federal anti-trafficking law in 2007. Furthermore, new Attorney General Marisela Morales has highlighted the crime as one of her priorities in her five months on the job, and she now has two separate divisions specializing in human trafficking prosecutions.

The number of human trafficking cases registered by the government in 2010 came out at the relatively low number of 259, according to the State Department, although many instances of the crime are not reported — the true number is certainly much higher.

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