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    Don’t ignore Cuba’s role in human trafficking

    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
    cubacenter.org

    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
    Communist authorities.”

    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 –
    www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article44278917.html

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