Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean

Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean

Trafficking in persons (TIP) for the purpose of exploitation is a lucrative criminal activity that is of major concern to the United States and the international community. According to the U.S. State Department, there may be as many as 20 million trafficking victims around the world at any given time. In recent years, the largest numbers of trafficking victims have been identified in Africa and Europe; however, human trafficking is also a major problem in Latin America.
 
Countries in Latin America serve as source, transit, and destination countries for trafficking victims. Men, women, and children are victimized within their own countries, as well as trafficked to other countries in the region. Latin America is also a primary source region for people trafficked to the United States, increasingly by transnational criminal organizations. In FY2013, primary countries of origin for foreign trafficking victims certified as eligible to receive U.S. assistance included Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador (along with Thailand, the Philippines, and India). Smaller numbers of Latin American TIP victims are trafficked to Europe and Asia. Latin America serves as a transit region for Asian TIP victims.
 
U.S. interests in Latin America are multiple and, at times, conflicting. These interests include strengthening democracy, promoting economic growth  through free trade, stemming the flow of illegal narcotics and migrants, and cooperating on border security and anti-terrorism measures.  These broad interests either directly or indirectly affect all U.S. policy in the region and may at times conflict with specific human rights goals, such as fighting human trafficking. As is the case with many human rights issues, ethical concerns about human trafficking must be balanced against broader U.S. geopolitical goals and interests in each country.  

There are several ways in which broader U.S. foreign policy goals may influence the TIP report and sanctions process. Some observers maintain that there are certain U.S. allies in the region that could never be sanctioned for political reasons. Others contend that the repeated inclusion of Cuba on the Tier 3 list until 2014 constituted “selective indignation” on the part of the U.S. government. U.S. officials working in the region have noted that it is sometimes difficult to produce an unbiased account of government efforts against trafficking without being swayed by underlying foreign policy concerns. Others say that it is difficult to deal with trafficking in persons when a country is undergoing extreme political instability, and that were TIP sanctions actually enforced, they might undermine the broader U.S. goals of preventing democratic breakdown in the hemisphere.
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