Using Diplomatic Relations with Cuba to Fight Human Trafficking

By Cassidy Slater

On January 16, the State Department signed a law-enforcement agreement with Cuba outlining potential collaboration on several security and criminal issues, including human trafficking.

Creation of this Bilateral Commission follows last year’s presidential policy directive establishing a framework for a U.S.-Cuba partnership to address specific regional challenges. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba and the State Department, at a meeting in early January, representatives discussed measures to support victims through a “zero tolerance” policy on trafficking and to share information about best prosecution practices.

The 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report puts Cuba on the Tier 2 Watch List. This ranking reflects Cuba’s failure to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking or demonstrate increased anti-trafficking efforts during the last reporting period.

Although the Cuban government has established a zero-tolerance policy toward sex trafficking, it does not explicitly prohibit forced labor or report on efforts to prevent it. In fact, Cuba has come under scrutiny for allegations that it sponsors and profits from forced labor. Additionally, its criminal code focuses almost exclusively on sexual exploitation, ignoring other types or forms.

As a leader in the fight against human trafficking, the United States should continue to push for coordination to combat trafficking in all bilateral relationships. In the case of Cuba, the Bilateral Commission has provided a framework to address highly divisive issues, and coordination on trafficking can foster agreement and improve relations.

To build on this momentum, President Trump should appoint a White House Senior Advisor tasked with prioritizing human trafficking in diplomatic strategy and policy development to ensure that the United States leverages its influence to persuade other countries to boost their efforts to combat trafficking.


Published on February 22, 2017


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