Young Cuban women lured to Miami on promises of freedom, forced into prostitution
Young Cuban women lured to Miami on promises of freedom, forced into
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES AND BRENDA MEDINA
As a means to flee Cuba, six young women agreed to work in Miami as
That was the deal to pay off a $20,000 smuggling fee from the island to
Mexico and ultimately into the United States.
But instead of simply stripping, they were forced into sex slavery in
Miami. They were locked up, mistreated and forced into prostitution
until police rescued them in September, according to federal court
documents. Their ordeal has become the first known criminal case
involving Cuban women brought to the United States for sexual exploitation.
Prosecutors charge that 31-year-old Silvio Clark Morales — who faces
trial later this month on 16 charges, including sexual trafficking and
exploitation of women — offered to guide the women out of Cuba and find
them jobs as strippers in Miami, promising they would not have to have
sex with clients. In return, the women agreed to pay him $100 a day of
their earnings until they paid off the $20,000.
But once here, court documents say, the terms changed. Morales, AKA
“Jander” and “Silvito,” increased the debt to $55,000 and forced them
into prostitution, according to court documents.
The women are 21 to 25 years old. Most of them, like Morales, are from
Camagüey province in eastern Cuba. They left Cuba in 2015 and 2016, amid
an exodus from the island that has been increasing since the Obama
administration announced a change of its policies toward Cuba.
The legal documents in the case, first reported by Univisión 23, a news
partner of el Nuevo Herald, indicate that Morales did not work alone and
moved easily between Florida and Cuba, and perhaps Mexico and Central
America as well.
The documents show he traveled to Cuba to meet the women, some of whom
he first made contact with via Facebook. In one case, Morales picked up
one woman in Cuba and “transported her to a boat” that took her and a
dozen other people to Cancun in Mexico, the documents said.
Yoel Trujillo, who acknowledged that he guarded the women in Miami, told
Univisión 23 reporter Erika Carrillo in June that the operation was part
of a people smuggling network that operates between Cuba, Mexico and the
“We took them to the [Mexican immigration] detention center to get them
papers, made a deal with a lawyer that Silvito has there, then sent them
money by MoneyGram and he put them on an airplane to the border,”
One of the women said she met Morales in Honduras when he was introduced
as a smuggler who could get her to the United States, according to the
court documents. Another victim said she sent money through Western
Union to “associates” of Morales in Mexico.
The documents do not say when Morales came to the United States, but
Trujillo said he arrived four to five years ago and obtained his
permanent residence under the Cuban Adjustment Act.
The case could prove to be a test of new levels of cooperation between
U.S. and Cuban authorities that began after the reestablishment of
diplomatic relations. A colonel in Cuba’s Interior Ministry visited
Miami in February to meet with U.S. officials from the departments of
Homeland Security (DHS), State and Justice about human trafficking and
immigration fraud. DHS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and
federal prosecutors in South Florida declined to comment on the case
because it remains under investigation. They also declined to say
whether Cuban authorities are cooperating with the investigation.
Two of Morales’ victims escaped from the apartment in the Allapattah
neighborhood of Miami on Sept. 6 and went to police, who arrested
Morales the same day. He was indicted later that month. He faces up to
life in prison if convicted on the string of charges, which also include
human smuggling and possession of weapons during criminal activities.
Morales’ court-appointed attorney could not be reached Thursday.
The other four women were found in the same Allapattah apartment complex
where they and Morales lived. Several neighbors told Univisión 23 that
they knew about the activities going on inside.
Univisión first aired a report on the case this week, which included the
June interview with Trujillo. He told the TV channel that he was in
charge of receiving the young women in Miami, guarding them and
transporting them to night clubs and hotels to meet clients, all on
orders from Morales.
Trujillo said they hid their passports and the food stamps they are
entitled to as Cuban migrants.
“I admit that I was guilty, but I had the courage to break with it and
talk about it because of the women because of their fears, even though I
know all of this could cost me,” Trujillo told the television station.
“One day I went to pick up one of them up at a hotel that they use, on
the edge of the airport, and she was with two men,” he said. “It was
clear that she came out destroyed, her body, you understand me? That hit
me pretty hard.”
Trujillo added that Morales did not allow the women to go to the
hospital when they were ill.
The women have said that Morales threatened them, and some declared that
he beat them. He pointed a pistol at one woman and at the boyfriend of
another “because they were breaking his rules,” according to the legal
documents. He drove another to a bridge and threatened to throw her off,
the women said.
“You could say they are also sex slaves because they had to be with
him,” Trujillo said.
Morales also threatened to kill the women’s relatives in Cuba if they
left him. The mother of one of the women who escaped confirmed that he
threatened her on the island.
Morales went to Cuba “and told the mother that if she ]the young woman]
did not return in a week he was going to kill the son [she had left in
Cuba] and was going to have her killed here in the United States, that
he had the power to do it,” Trujillo said.
Univisión reported that Trujillo’s information eventually led
authorities to the Allapattah building where the four women were found
three months later. His name does not appear in the court documents but
knowledgeable sources told the channel that he could be called in for
Sgt. Mary Pérez, with the human trafficking unit of the Miami-Dade
Police Department, told Univisión that her unit has noticed a recent
increase in the number of Cuban prostitutes.
“This year we’ve found many more Hispanics than last year,” Pérez said.
“This year we’ve had more recently arrived Cubans.”
The U.S. State Department’s last annual report on people smuggling
listed Cuba on its “Tier 2” Watch List of countries that don’t do enough
to combat the crime. It notes that Cuban citizens are victims of sex
trafficking and forced labor in Latin America and the Caribbean, but
does not mention Cuban victims in the United States.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, both Cuban Americans, alleged that
the Obama administration pushed the State Department in 2015 to move
Cuba from its worst classification, “Tier 3,” to the “Tier 2” Watch
List. Many Cuban American members of the U.S. Congress have repeatedly
denounced the existence of Cuban criminal networks that operate on both
sides of the Florida Straits.
A State Department spokesperson told el Nuevo Herald that Cuba and the
United States are holding “productive discussions” on human trafficking
and called it “an area of mutual concern.”
The spokesperson referred to a January trip to Havana by Susan Coppedge,
U.S. ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons,
“to discuss efforts to combat trafficking in persons with a broad range
of Cuban officials.
“We hope to plan another exchange in Washington next year.”
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