US Chastises Colombia, Venezuela for Response to Human Trafficking

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Both Colombia and Venezuela have dropped down a category in the US State Department’s most recent human trafficking report, as the region continues to struggle to find effective ways to combat human smuggling, sex trafficking, and forced labor.  

In the newly released 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, Venezuela dropped from the Tier Two Watch List — the third lowest of the four rankings — to Tier Three in 2014 due to the country’s failure to present a written plan to bring the government into compliance with international laws.

According to the report, Venezuelan nationals are subjected to both sex trafficking within the country and trafficking from the coastal region to nearby Caribbean islands. Venezuela is also a destination for trafficking victims from a number of Latin American, Asian and African countries, with Ecuadorean children in particular forced into domestic servitude. 

Colombia also dropped a category in 2014, from Tier One to Tier Two. Although the US State Department recognized the country’s efforts, it said the government does not fully comply with international standards, particularly in its efforts to eradicate internal human trafficking. The report identified the legal classification of internal trafficking as one area in need of improvement, noting that the sex trafficking of children was often reported as induction into prostitution and pimping, which can result in shorter prison sentences. 

InSight Crime Analysis

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Venezuela and Colombia are the second and third most affected by human trafficking in Latin America, after Panama.

In Colombia, the country’s armed conflict and deeply rooted organized crime groups have exacerbated the problem, with illegal armed groups forcing children into combat, prostitution and drug cultivation. Sex trafficking in particular is also linked to broader factors, including booms in tourism and in the extractive industries, with both foreign visitors and itinerant mine workers making for a lucrative client base for traffickers.

In Venezuela, on the other hand, trafficking appears to have flourished due to an inefficient and ineffective state response, despite efforts last year to train government employees and legal reforms in a new anti-human trafficking law passed in 2010. According to the report, officials have even been implicated in trafficking, with reports of forced labor among Cuban citizens — particularly doctors — working in Venezuela as part of a labor-for-oil exchange.   

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Trafficking 

Inclusion in the Tier Three category can result in economic sanctions, although as El Pais noted, China and Russia were not subjected to sanctions last year in spite of their blacklisting in the 2013 human trafficking report because it was deemed not in the US “national interest.”

On the other hand, Cuba — the only Latin American country besides Venezuela to receive a Tier Three categorization this year — has previously been sanctioned. It remains to be seen whether Venezuela, a major supplier of oil to the United States but also one of the US government’s main antagonists in the region, will now face punitive measures. 

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