Cuba Remains on “Tier 2—Watch List” in U.S. State Department’s Annual Trafficking in Persons Report   

On June 28 the U.S. State Department released its Trafficking in Persons Report (June 2018), [1] pursuant to a U.S. federal statute (The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended), requiring annual reports on human trafficking in every country of the world. After looking at the background for this report, we will examine its report on Cuba.

Background

This statute defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or  the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” (Report at 5.)

This statute also defines the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons” as follows:

  • “(1) The government of the country should prohibit severe forms of trafficking in persons and punish acts of such trafficking. (2) For the knowing commission of any act of sex trafficking involving force, fraud, coercion, or in which the victim of sex trafficking is a child incapable of giving meaningful consent, or of trafficking which includes rape or kidnapping or which causes a death, the government of the country should prescribe punishment commensurate with that for grave crimes, such as forcible sexual assault. (3) For the knowing commission of any act of a severe form of trafficking in persons, the government of the country should prescribe punishment that is sufficiently stringent to deter and that adequately reflects the heinous nature of the offense. (4) The government of the country should make serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons.” (Report at 44.)

The statute then goes on with great details on 12 Indicia of “Serious and Sustained Efforts” as used in the last of these four minimum standards. (Report at 44-45.)

The report placed the countries in the world into the following five tiers or categories (Report at 54):

Tier Definition Number of Countries
1 “The governments of countries that fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”   39
2 “The governments of countries that do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”   81
2-Watch

List

“The government of countries that do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, and for which: a) the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials; or c) the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional steps over the next year.”  43
Tier 3 “The governments of countries that do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so” 23
Special Cases   4
TOTAL   190

Report on Cuba

Cuba remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year after four years in Tier 3.[2] Its introductory paragraph stated the following:

 “The Government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts by prosecuting and convicting more traffickers, including a trafficker that subjected a boy to forced begging; creating a directorate to provide specialized attention to child victims of crime and violence, including trafficking; and publishing its national anti-trafficking plan for 2017-2020. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government did not criminalize most forms of forced labor, or sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17, and did not report providing specialized services to identified victims. The government lacked procedures to proactively identify forced labor victims and detained potential sex trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan, that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Cuba was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3.” (Report at 156 (emphasis added.)[3]

The Report also provided the following “RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CUBA”

“Draft and enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits and sufficiently punishes all forms of human trafficking, including forced labor, sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17, and the full range of trafficking ‘acts’ (recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving persons); vigorously investigate and prosecute both sex trafficking and forced labor offenses; implement formal policies and procedures on the identification of all trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate services, and train officials, including first responders, in their use; adopt policies and programs that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male and female trafficking victims, including measures to ensure identified sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor; establish a permanent inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee and implement the 2017-2020 national anti-trafficking action plan in partnership with international organizations; implement policies to prohibit force, fraud, or coercion by foreign labor recruiters and state-owned or controlled enterprises in recruiting and retaining employees; educate workers about trafficking indicators and where to report trafficking-related violations; and provide specialized training on trafficking indicators for hotline staff and interpretation for non-Spanish speakers.” (Report at 158.)

The Report’s conclusion on Cuba under the heading “Trafficking Profile” states as follows:

“As reported over the past five years, Cuba is a source, transit, and destination country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Sex trafficking and sex tourism, including child victims, occur within Cuba. Traffickers subject Cuban citizens to sex trafficking and forced labor in South America, the Caribbean, and the United States. Traffickers subject foreign nationals from Africa and Asia to sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba to pay off travel debts. The government is the primary employer in the Cuban economy, including in foreign medical and other overseas missions that employ more than 84,000 workers in more than 67 countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. These medical missions constitute a significant source of Cuban government income. Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other sources allege that Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; the government has stated the postings are voluntary, and some participants also have stated the postings are voluntary and well-paid compared to jobs within Cuba. The Cuban government acknowledges that it withholds passports of overseas medical personnel in Venezuela; the government provided ID cards to such personnel in place of passports. There are also claims about substandard working and living conditions in some countries. Observers noted Cuban authorities coerced some participants to remain in the program, including by allegedly withholding their passports, restricting their movement, using “minders” to monitor participants outside of work, threatening to revoke their medical licenses, retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program, or impose exile if participants didn’t return to Cuba as directed by government supervisors. The government uses some high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and does not pay them for their work but claims this work is not coerced.” (Report at 158 (emphasis added.)

The portion of this Profile about Cuba’s foreign medical missions’ alleged use of forced labor is highlighted because, as discussed below, this blogger believes such allegation is erroneous.

Conclusion

There are at least two major objections to this report on Cuba.

First, there is no mention of  the bilateral U.S.-Cuba discussions about human trafficking that have occurred since the December 17, 2014, announcement of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement. Unfortunately the brief official announcements of such discussions do not provide details of the substance of the discussions.[4] But such discussions may bear light on the U.S. report about Cuba.

Second, there also is no merit to the Report’s allegation that Cuba’s employment of Cuban medical personnel in foreign missions is  illegal forced labor. Details are provided in a prior post, but here is a summary for that conclusion:

  • There is conflicting evidence on the coercion issue and there has been no adjudication of that issue.
  • International medical aid has been a significant part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, and some Cuban medical personnel have said that such service had a major positive impact on their lives and medical careers.
  • A detailed study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman, rejects the accusation of forced labor.
  • Medical education in Cuba is free and requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation.
  • Having Cuban medical personnel participate in foreign medical mission does not violate the relevant international legal standard (the Forced Labour Convention, 1930) because it expressly excludes “any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligation of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.”

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Trafficking in Persons Report: June 2018.  At the State Department’s Launch Ceremony public comments were made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kari Johnstone, the acting director for the Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons plus 10 TIP Heroes from around the world. Earlier there was a background briefing for journalists. (See U.S. State Dep’t, Remarks at the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report Launch Ceremony (June 28, 2018) ; U.S. State Dep’t, Senior State Department Official on the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report (June 28, 2018).

[2] Some of the prior reports about trafficking in Cuba are discussed in the following posts to dwkcommentariess.com: U.S. Upgrades Cuba in State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking (Aug. 7, 2015); Comment: Cuba’s International Medical Mission Doctors’ Reflections (Nov. 30, 2015); U.S. State Department’s 2015 Human Trafficking Report’s Objectivity About Cuba Is Still Unresolved (Nov. 16, 2015); U.S. Reasserts Upgrade of Cuba in Annual Human Trafficking Report (July 2, 2016); U.S. Senate Hearing on 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (July 20, 2016); Cuba’s Unchanged Status in U.S. State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking (Aug. 13, 2017).

[3] The Report provides greater details on Cuba’s Prosecution, Protection and Prevention. (Report at 156-58.)

[4]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com about such mentions of bilateral discussions about human trafficking: This Week’s U.S.-Cuba Meetings in Havana (Jan. 18, 2015); U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission Sets Agenda for Future Discussions of Remaining Issues (Sept. 12, 2015); Results of Second Meeting of U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission (Nov. 11, 2015); United States-Cuba Bilateral Commission Meets To  Review Normalization Status (May 18, 2016); U.S. and Cuba Hold Another Meeting of the Bilateral Commission (Sept. 30, 2016); U.S. and Cuba Continue To Implement Normalization of Relations (Jan. 17, 2017); U.S. and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks (Dec. 12, 2017); U.S. and Cuba Hold Discussions About Human Trafficking and Migration Fraud (Dec. 15, 2017); U.S. and Cuba Continue To Confer Over Common Concerns (Feb. 2, 2018).

 

 

U.S. State Department Unjustly Continues To Allege That Cuba’s Foreign Medical Missions Engage in Forced Labor 

As noted in a prior post, the U.S. State Department on June 27, 2017, issued its annual report on human trafficking, and Its discussion of Cuba (pp. 143-45) included the allegation that Cuba had engaged in illegal forced labor with its foreign medical mission program.

This allegation has been present in previous annual reports, some of which have been discussed in other posts.[1]

Report Regarding Cuba’s Alleged Forced Labor in Its Foreign Medical Missions

The latest report observes, presumably correctly, that the Cuban penal code does not criminalize forced labor. Therefore, the report, also presumably correctly, states that Cuba “did not make efforts to identify or protect victims of forced labor” and  “did not report having procedures to identify victims of forced labor.”

In addition, the report says, presumably correctly, “The government is the primary employer in the Cuban economy, including in foreign medical missions that employ more than 84,000 workers in more than 67 countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. These medical missions constitute a signficant source of Cuban government income.”

Implicitly conceding that there was conflicting evidence, this report said, “Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other [unnamed] sources allege that Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; the [Cuban] government has stated the postings are voluntary, and some participants also have stated the postings are voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba.” (Emphases added.)

This report continued, “The Cuban government acknowledges that it withholds passports of overseas medical personnel in Venezuela due to security concerns; the government provided ID cards to such personnel in place of passports. There are also claims about substandard working and living conditions in some countries. In the past, there have been claims that Cuban authorities coerced participants to remain in the program, including by allegedly withholding their passports, restricting their movement, using “minders” to monitor participants outside of work, or threatening to revoke their medical licenses or retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program.“ (Emphasis added.)

“In 2015, Cuba reinstituted restrictions on travel for specialized doctors and some medical personnel, requiring them to obtain an exit permit from their superiors before leaving the country. On September 9, 2015, the government agreed to reinstate medical personnel who had left their positions while abroad. As of April 1, 2016, the Cuban authorities claimed that 274 medical professionals who returned to Cuba and were rehired at the same salary and level of responsibility they had before leaving. More recent data was not available.”

This report, consistent with prior reports, alleges or assumes that Cuba is engaged in illegal forced labor of Cuban medical personnel in foreign medical missions and that Cuba does not recognize forced labor as a possible issue affecting its nationals in medical missions abroad.

Analysis of the Allegation

This U.S. allegation is flawed for at least the following seven reasons.

First, while previous reports admitted that “information on the scope of . . . forced labor in Cuba is limited,” the latest report admits there is conflicting evidence about whether medical personnel’s participation in the foreign mission program is coerced and that the Cuban government denies such illegal coercion.

Second, most of this report’s recitation of alleged facts about the foreign mission program do not relate to, or substantiate, the forced labor allegation.

Third, “Internationalist medical aid has been a longstanding part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, since the beginning of the Revolution. As early as 1960 a brigade was sent to Chile following an earthquake there, and to Algeria in 1963, to support the new country recently liberated from colonialism.” At least four Cuban doctors who have participated in such missions have recorded how they treasure the positive impact of those experiences on their professional and personal lives.[2]

Fourth, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a detailed study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman.  He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.[3]

Fifth, relevant to this issue, but not mentioned in the Report, is the fact that medical education in Cuba (at the Latin American School of Medicine) is free. As a result requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation. The recent $67 monthly salary for Cuban physicians in Cuba compared with the $24 or $27 monthly income of other Cubans is a result of Cuba’s adoption of a “pyramid” compensation system whereby highly trained workers like physicians earn more than lower-skilled workers like busboys. This system, however, is being undermined by lower-skilled workers like gas-station attendants and waiters earning additional income from stealing and illegally selling gasoline and from earning tips in hard currency at restaurants and hotels serving foreign tourists. Indeed, Raúl Castro in his speech at the April 2016 Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba called this the “inverted pyramid” problem that had to be solved.[4]

Sixth, this Report and its predecessors do not cite to the relevant international legal definition of “forced labor” to assess this claim or set forth any legal analysis purportedly supporting the allegation. This is not surprising as international law does not support this allegation.

Most pertinent is the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which Cuba and 177 other state members of the International Labour Organization have ratified (as of 2016). The U.S., however, has not so ratified, yet another reason why the U.S. charge is inapt.

This treaty’s  Article 2(1) preliminarily defines  “forced or compulsory labour” as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily,” But there are five exceptions to this definition set forth in the treaty’s Article 2(2). One such exception, in subsection (b), states  ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . .  any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphases added.)[5]

Cuba clearly is a “fully self-governing country” and the participants in the foreign medical missions are Cuban “citizens,” and as previously stated, such participation is regarded as “part of the normal civic obligations” of such citizens with the appropriate medical qualifications. Thus, under the most relevant statement of international law, Cuba has not engaged in illegal forced labor with respect to the foreign medical missions.

Seventh, there has not been any fair adjudicative process that has determined that such illegal coercion exists.

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[1] Relevant posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Upgrades Cuba in State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking (Aug, 7, 2015); U.S. Reasserts Upgrade of Cuba in Annual Human Trafficking Report (July 2, 2016); U.S. Senate Hearing on on 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (July 20, 2016).

[2]  Ledn, Cuban doctors share their experiences in internationalist missions, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015).

[3] Erisman, Brain Drain Politics: the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Programme, Int’l J. Cuban Studies  269, 286-87 (2012).

[4] Raul Castro Discusses Socio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 19, 2016).

[5] This and other parts of the definition of “forced or compulsory labour” were reaffirmed in Article 1(3) of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.

U.S. Reasserts Upgrade of Cuba in Annual Report on Human Trafficking  

On June 30, 2016, the U.S. Department of State released its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, which is “the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking” and “ the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.”[1]

For this Report, “severe forms of trafficking in persons” is defined in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Victims Act (TVPA) as:

  • “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”

In this Report, the Department placed 188 countries (including the United States) into the following four tiers plus “Special Cases” (Libya, Somalia and Yemen) based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” found in Section 108 of the TVPA:

  • TIER 1 [36] “countries whose governments fully meet the . . . [TVPA’s] minimum standards.”
  • TIER 2 [78] “countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet those standards.”
  • TIER 2 WATCH LIST [44] “countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes; increased assistance to victims; and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government and convictions of trafficking crimes; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.”
  • TIER 3 [27] “countries whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”

Susan Coppedge, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, made remarks at the ceremony.[2] She said the Report was the U.S.’ “principal diagnostic tool to assess government efforts across what we call the three Ps: prosecution, protection and empowerment of victims, and preventing future trafficking crimes.” She also said there had been 27 downgrades in this Report compared with the prior report and 20 upgrades. In addition, she responded to journalists’ questions, but none was asked about Cuba.

The Report’s Assessment of Cuba’s Record on Human Trafficking [3]

In the 2016 Report Cuba was again placed in the Tier 2 Watch List with the following explanation.

“Cuba is a source and destination country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Child sex trafficking and child sex tourism occur within Cuba. Cuban authorities report people from ages 13 to 20 are most vulnerable to human trafficking in the country. Traffickers also subject Cuban citizens to sex trafficking and forced labor in South America and the Caribbean. The government indirectly acknowledged the presence of foreign national trafficking victims in Cuba. The government is the primary employer in the Cuban economy, including in foreign medical missions that employ more than 84,000 workers and constitute a significant source of Cuban government revenue. Some participants in foreign medical missions and other sources allege Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; however, the Cuban government and some participants say the program is voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. The government uses some high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and does not pay them for their work but claims this work is not coerced.”

“The Government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing antitrafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Cuba is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. The government reported continued efforts to address sex trafficking, including the prosecution and conviction of 18 sex traffickers in 2014 (the most recent available data) and the provision of services to 13 victims in those cases. The government publicly released a written report on its anti-trafficking efforts in October 2015. Multiple ministries engaged in anti-trafficking efforts, including the Ministries of Justice, Information Science and Communication, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Education, Tourism, Labor and Social Security, Culture and Health, and the attorney general’s office. The penal code does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking, although the government reported its submission of some trafficking-related penal code amendments to the National Assembly for review during the reporting period. The Cuban government was more transparent in providing details of anti trafficking efforts and the government’s overseas medical missions program. However, the government did not prohibit forced labor, report efforts to prevent forced labor, or recognize forced labor as a possible issue affecting its nationals in medical missions abroad. The government provided funding for child protection centers and guidance centers for women and families, which serve all crime victims, including trafficking victims. These centers had the ability to screen cases, make referrals to law enforcement, assist with arranging cooperation with law enforcement up to prosecution, and provide victim services.”

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CUBA

“Draft and enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits and sufficiently punishes all forms of human trafficking, including forced labor, sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17, and the full range of trafficking “acts” (recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving persons); vigorously investigate and prosecute both sex trafficking and forced labor offenses; provide specialized training for managers in state-owned or controlled enterprises in identifying and protecting victims of forced labor; implement policies to prohibit force, fraud, or coercion in recruiting and retaining employees in such enterprises; train those responsible for enforcing the labor code to screen for trafficking indicators and educate workers about trafficking indicators and where to report trafficking-related violations; draft and adopt a comprehensive written national anti-trafficking action plan and dedicate resources to implement it in partnership with international organizations; provide specialized victim identification and referral training for first responders; establish formal policies and procedures to guide officials in the identification of all trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate services; adopt policies that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male and female trafficking victims, including measures to ensure identified sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor; and schedule a visit and cooperate with the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons.”

PROSECUTION: The government sustained law enforcement efforts by prosecuting and convicting sex traffickers, but took no action to address forced labor. The penal code does not criminalize all forms of trafficking, in particular forced labor and sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17. The government did not report any labor trafficking investigations, prosecutions, or convictions. In January 2016, the government reported it was in the process of amending the code, including submitting amendments to the National Assembly to raise the age of consent; it is unclear whether the government will make additional amendments to improve the legal framework to address trafficking. Cuba prohibits some forms of trafficking through several penal code provisions, including: article 302 (procuring and trafficking in persons); article 310.1 (corruption of minors younger than 16 for sexual purposes); article 312.1 (corruption of minors younger than 16 for begging); and article 316.1 (sale and trafficking of a child younger than 16). The penal code’s definition of sex trafficking conflates sex trafficking with prostitution and pimping. The law criminalizes inducement to or benefiting from prostitution, but treats force, coercion, and abuse of power or vulnerability as aggravating factors rather than an integral part of the crime. Legal provisions addressing “corruption of minors” criminalize many forms of child sex trafficking but define a child as an individual younger than 16 years of age; below the age set in international trafficking law, which is 18 years of age. Forced prostitution is illegal irrespective of the victim’s age, and the government has reportedly prosecuted individuals benefiting from child sex trafficking. Provisions for adult and child sex trafficking do not explicitly criminalize the acts of recruitment, transport, and receipt of persons for these purposes. In December 2013, the government amended article 346.1 of the criminal code to mandate sentences of five to 12 years’ imprisonment for various crimes, including for laundering funds obtained from trafficking in persons. Labor code article 116 prohibits entities from directly establishing labor relations with adolescents younger than age 17, even if adolescents may be authorized to join the work force.”

“In 2015, the government publicly presented official data on 147 prosecutions and convictions of sex traffickers during calendar year 2014, the most recent data available. Authorities reported 13 prosecutions and 18 convictions of sex traffickers, compared with 13 prosecutions and convictions in 2013. At least nine convictions in 2014 involved suspects accused of subjecting children to trafficking within Cuba, including the facilitation of child sex tourism in Cuba. The average sentence was seven years’ imprisonment. The government also identified a group of Cubans abroad recruiting and transporting women with false promises of employment and fraudulent work contracts in order to subject the victims to debt bondage and forced prostitution. The government has not sought extradition in this case, and therefore no prosecutions or convictions of suspected traffickers in Cuba have resulted. Students at the Ministry of Interior Academy and police assigned to tourist centers reportedly received specific anti-trafficking training and victim assistance. The government demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with other governments on investigations of possible traffickers. The government arranges for high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and allegedly forces or coerces participation in medical missions, but it denies such claims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking in 2014.”

PROTECTION: The government sustained efforts to protect sex trafficking victims, but did not make efforts to identify or protect victims of forced labor. Authorities identified 11 child sex trafficking victims and four adult sex trafficking victims in 2014; it did not identify any labor trafficking victims or male sex trafficking victims. Identified sex trafficking victims received government assistance; detailed information on assistance provided to the 15 identified victims was unavailable. Other government-organized NGOs, like the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the Prevention and Social Assistance Commission, and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution contributed by identifying victims of trafficking to state authorities and providing victim services. Independent members of civil society expressed concern about the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and  limited information on the scope of sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba given sparse independent monitoring by NGOs and international organizations. The government reportedly developed procedures to proactively identify sex trafficking victims, whereby first responders work with social workers to identify potential cases and refer them to law enforcement.”

“The government did not report having procedures to proactively identify victims of forced labor. Some participants in foreign medical missions and other sources allege Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; however, the government and other participants have stated the postings are voluntary. In support of their applications to receive immigration benefits from the United States, some Cubans working in missions abroad have stated Cuban authorities withheld their passports and restricted their movements. At the same time, some participants who left medical missions abroad have been able to obtain new passports from their embassies in neighboring countries. There have also been reports that Cuban authorities coerced participants to remain in the program by allegedly threatening to revoke their medical licenses or retaliate against their family members if participants leave the program. Reports of substandard working and living conditions and the presence of “minders” to monitor medical professionals outside of work also continued. Last year, Cuba reinstituted restrictions on travel for specialized doctors and some medical personnel, requiring them to obtain an exit permit from their superiors before leaving the island. On September 9, 2015, the government agreed to reinstitute medical personnel that left their positions while abroad. As of April 1, 2016, the Cuban authorities claimed that 274 medical professionals returned to Cuba and were rehired at the same salary and level of responsibility.”

“The FMC received funding from international organizations and operated centers for women and families nationwide to assist individuals harmed by violence, including victims of sex trafficking. These centers provided services such as psychological treatment, health care, skills training, and assistance in finding employment. The government reportedly developed a referral process to transfer trafficking victims to law enforcement custody, secure evidence for prosecutions, and provide victim services and follow-on care. Neither the government nor the government-organized NGOs operated shelters or provided services specifically for male trafficking victims. Police encouraged child sex trafficking victims younger than age 16 to assist in prosecutions of traffickers by gathering children’s testimony through psychologist-led videotaped interviewing, usually removing the need for children to appear in court. There were no reports of the government punishing sex trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. The government indirectly acknowledged the existence of some foreign trafficking victims in Cuba.”

PREVENTION: The government sustained prevention efforts to combat sex trafficking; however, authorities did not make efforts to prevent or address the demand for forced labor. The attorney general’s office continued to operate a 24-hour telephone line for individuals needing legal assistance, including sex trafficking victims, and received calls related to potential trafficking cases in 2015 that led to investigations. State media continued to produce newspaper articles and television and radio programs to raise public awareness about sex trafficking. Authorities maintained an office within the Ministry of Tourism charged with monitoring Cuba’s image as a tourism destination, combating sex tourism, and addressing the demand for commercial sex acts. The Cuban government cooperated with foreign law enforcement in investigating foreign citizens suspected of sexual crimes against children, including child sex trafficking. Under Cuban law, authorities may deny entry to suspected sex tourists and expel known sex offenders, but reported no related convictions in 2014. The government did not report whether it provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The government publicly released a written report on its anti-trafficking efforts in October 2015. In March 2015, authorities invited the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons to visit, but the visit had not been scheduled by the end of the reporting period. The government did not report specialized training for labor inspectors to screen for indicators of potential forced labor.”

Reactions to the Report

Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, attended the State Department’s ceremony for launching the Report and afterwards stated, “ the committee will closely study the report to determine the integrity of the findings. . . . In order for the TIP report to be an effective tool for holding governments accountable, all judgments must be based on measurable progress on anti-trafficking efforts. Following what were clear flaws in last year’s TIP process, the committee will carefully examine the 2016 report and conduct public hearings [this July] to determine the integrity of the findings. Senator Ben Cardin, (Dem., MD), the committee’s Ranking Member, also issued a statement approving of the Report’s upgrading Thailand from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List and the downgrading of Uzbekistan from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3. He also expressed continuing concern about Malaysia. Neither of them said anything about Cuba.”[4]

Two other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senators Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), and Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), also issued statements. Menendez criticized the rankings for Malaysia, Cuba and unnamed other countries that “do not match the facts on the ground” and stated his expectation that “Congress . . . [will] be aggressive in its oversight and thoroughly investigate the methodology used to justify this year’s rankings.  Further, I am convinced that new legislation to reform the ranking process is the only way to restore credibility to this broken system and I plan on introducing a bill to do just that.” Rubio asserted that last year’s upgrade of Cuba to Tier 2 Watch List, and by implication its maintenance of that position in this Report, “was not justified by the facts on the ground.” He also criticized China’s maintenance on the Tier 2 Watch List and Thailand’s upgrading to that List.[5]

Conclusion

 The comments of Senators Corker, Menendez and Rubio allude to the Senate committee’s criticism of the prior report’s upgrading of Cuba and Malaysia from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List and to the Administration’s alleged political reasons for doing so, all of which was discussed in a prior post.

At the State Department’s recent ceremony to announce the release of the 2016 Report U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry anticipatorily tried to rebut similar criticisms against this Report. He said, “The tier rankings . . . reflect our department’s best assessment of a government’s efforts to eliminate human trafficking. They don’t take into account political and other factors. As I say, they’re based on . . . [established] criteria. And in addition to the rankings, the report outlines our specific concerns as well as the ways we can improve our efforts. This is not meant to be a dunning report; it is meant to be a demarcation, an encouragement process, a process of evaluation and work towards changing rankings.”[6]

We all will have to see what happens at the forthcoming February hearing to assess these criticisms.

In the meantime, we can, in my opinion, effectively rebut this Report’s half-hearted contention that Cuban medical professionals are engaged in forced labor when they work on the government’s foreign medical missions. Here are the bases for that conclusion:

  • First, the Report admits that there is conflicting information and allegations on the foreign medical mission work. Coercion is alleged by “some participants” and unnamed “other sources.” On the other hand, the Report admits, the Cuban government denies these allegations, and instead the Government and “some participants” assert the postings are “voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba.” The Report also concedes there is conflicting information on whether other means, including withholding Cuban passports, are used to coerce or force participants to remain in the program.
  • Second, there apparently has not been any fair adjudicative process to determine which of these conflicting sets of information is valid.
  • Third, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman. He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.[7]
  • Fourth, According to Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party’s newspaper, “Internationalist medical aid has been a longstanding part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, since the beginning of the Revolution. As early as 1960 a brigade was sent to Chile following an earthquake there, and to Algeria in 1963, to support the new country recently liberated from colonialism.” The Granma article included the reflection of four Cuban doctors who have participated in such missions and who treasure the positive impact of those experiences on their professional and personal lives.[8]
  • Fifth, this Report does not cite to the relevant legal definition of “forced labor” to assess this claim. Most pertinent is Article 2(2) of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which states, in part, ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . .  any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphasis added.)[9]

Moreover, as a previous post noted, a respected international journalist, Alma Guillermoprieto, recently reported that Cuban medical doctors serving on the island now earn $67 per month, but $500 per month when serving on a foreign medical mission.

The $67 monthly salary for Cuban physicians in Cuba compared with the $24 or $27 monthly income of other Cubans is a result of Cuba’s adoption of a “pyramid” compensation system whereby highly trained workers like physicians earn more than lower-skilled workers like busboys. This system, however, is being undermined by lower-skilled workers like gas-station attendants and waiters earning additional income from stealing and illegally selling gasoline and from earning tips in hard currency at restaurants and hotels serving foreign tourists. Indeed, Raúl Castro in his speech at the April 2016 Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba called this the “inverted pyramid” problem that had to be solved.

Finally all of this discussion about Cuba’s foreign medical mission program is precipitated by the U.S. Cuban Medical Personnel Parole Program that allows such personnel to apply for parole into the U.S. For reasons previously provided, this program is unjustified and should be ended as soon as possible.[10]

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Trafficking in Persons Report 2016 (June 30, 2016).

[2] U. S. State Dep’t, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Susan Coppedge on the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (June 30, 2016).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Trafficking in Persons Report 2016 : Country Narratives–Cuba, at 146-47 (June 30, 2016).

[4] Senator Corker, Corker: U.S. Must Lead Global Effort to End Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery (June 30, 2016). Senator Cardin, Cardin Statement on State Dept. Trafficking in Persons Report (June 30, 2016).

[5] Senator Menendez, Menendez Reacts to State Department 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (June 30, 2016); Senator Rubio, Rubio Comments On State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (June 30, 2016).

[6] U.S. State Dep’t, [Secretary Kerry’s] Remarks at the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report Ceremony (June 30, 2016).

[7] Erisman, Brain Drain Politics: the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Programme, Int’l J. Cuban Studies 269, 286-87 (2012).

[8] Ledn, Cuban doctors share their experiences in internationalist missions, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015).

[9] This and other parts of the definition of “forced or compulsory labour” were reaffirmed in Article 1(3) of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.

[10] New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 23, 2014); New York Times Calls for End to Special U.S. Immigration Programs for Cubans, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 21, 2015).

 

 

Prominent Latin American Journalist’s Critical Observations About Cuba

imagesAlma Gillermoprieto, a prominent journalist who has written extensively about Cuba and Latin America,[1] in an article dated April 15, 2016,[2] had interesting observations about Cuba, which subsequently have been confirmed by the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba and other events. (Her photograph is to the right.)

She was in Cuba during President Obama’s visit and did not disagree with the U.S. media’s declaring “Obama the winner in the encounter” with Raúl Castro, an unsurprising conclusion since “Obama is as skilled at public relations as any U.S. politician, and the leader of a monolithic state hardly needs charm.” Obama and his speech to the Cuban people on live television, as discussed in an earlier post, made a significant impact on the Cuban people with the speech’s content as well as his persona—young, vigorous, handsome and African-American.

The Broken Cuban Economic System

Guillermoprieto noted that everyone in Cuba obviously was aware of the state of disrepair of nearly everything on the island. It prompted the “joke on everyone’s lips,” she reports, “that Obama should stay in Havana for a month, because in preparation for his three-day visit [in March] more had been done to fix up the place than in the previous half-century.” This was but one indication of the broken Cuban economic system.

For Raúl Castro and the other leaders of the Government and the Communist Party of Cuba, Guillermoprieto speculates, the question has been “How many mistakes can safely be corrected? When the house you live in is falling apart, how much can you tinker with the plumbing, the windows, the doorjambs, and the supporting walls before the whole edifice collapses around you?”

Raúl in his April 21 speech to the Party Congress admitted some of the major ways in which the Cuban economic house was falling apart. Economic growth [over the past five years], he said, was “not enough to ensure the creation of the productive and infrastructure conditions required to advance development and improve the population’s consumption.” Indeed, “wages and pensions are still unable to satisfy the basic needs of Cuban families.” (Emphasis added.)

A major problem, Castro admitted at the Congress, was insufficient agricultural production and hence rising prices for basic foodstuffs and the need to maintain consumer subsidies in the form of lower prices with ration books. Such price controls to lower prices on basic foods were instituted on April 22, and on May 3 additional price controls on foodstuffs were implemented.[3]

Moreover, said Castro, “The state enterprise system, which constitutes the main management mode in the national economy, finds itself in at a disadvantage when compared to the growing non-state sector which benefits from working in monetary system with an exchange rate of one CUC to 25 CUP, while the state system operates on a basis of one CUC to one CUP. This serious distortion must be resolved as soon as possible and a single currency reestablished.” (Emphasis added.)

According to Castro, efforts to implement the economic reforms approved five years ago have been delayed due to “slow implementation of legal regulations and their assimilation.” The “main obstacle,” however, has been “out-dated mentalities, which give rise to an attitude of inertia or lack of confidence in the future. There also remain, as was to be expected, feelings of nostalgia for the less difficult times in the revolutionary process, when the Soviet Union and socialist camp existed.”(Emphasis added.)

Incorporating Private Enterprise in the Cuban System

Guillermoprieto further speculates that Raúl “may be trying to modernize Cuban socialism to the point where it is capitalist and open enough to accommodate the restless generations who are now under forty-five years of age . . . . Perhaps he has the sense that the revolution is finished, that there is no future in the old dogmas and failures, that sixty years of poverty and repression are enough, and that he has no real power to control the inevitable future. Perhaps he is simply trying to ensure, finger in the dike, that a newly capitalist Cuba does not slide into a morass of corruption and cynicism.”

At the subsequent Party Congress, Raúl clearly embraced private enterprise as necessary and welcome to Cuba. He said, “Cooperatives, self-employment and medium, small and micro private enterprise are not in their essence anti-socialist or counter-revolutionary.” With non-state employment increasing from 18.8% in 2010 to 29.2% of the economy in 2015, “just over half a million Cubans [now] are registered as self-employed; they provide services and generate much-needed production. An atmosphere that does not discriminate against or stigmatize duly authorized self-employment is being defined. . . . [We] favor the success of non-state forms of management.” (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, according to Raúl, “Recognizing the market in the functioning of the our socialist economy does not mean that the Party, government and mass organizations are no longer fulfilling their role in society. . . .The introduction of the rules of supply and demand is not at odds with the principle of planning. Both concepts can coexist and complement each other for the benefit of the country.” (Emphasis added.)

At the same time, Raúl made it clear that these welcome changes did not constitute an abandonment of the ideals of the Revolution, that state ownership of the means of production would still be the mainstay of the economy, that the changes did not constitute a restoration of capitalism, that the state would not permit concentrations of wealth and property and that Cuba needed to be wary of powerful external forces (i.e., the U.S.) seeking to take advantage of these changes.

Other signs of Cuba’s economic distress are the recent firing of an economist at the university of Havana and the upsurge of Cubans, especially younger people, leaving the island, as mentioned in a prior post.

Internal Cuban Opposition to Economic Reforms

Guillermoprieto notes that Raúl has internal opposition to rapid and significant changes to the economy and government, including brother Fidel in his rambling article in Granma after Obama’s visit that was discussed in a prior post. That article has opened the gates for other opposition, cleverly directed at Obama instead of Raúl.

Indeed, at the subsequent Party Congress, Foreign Secretary Bruno Rodriguez and one of the Cuban Five delivered speeches with harsh criticism of President Obama as the “pied piper’ attempting to lure Cubans down the path of capitalism. This too was discussed in an earlier post.

Guillermoprieto also quotes respected Cuban historian Rafael Rojas, now based in Mexico, about other opposition to Raúl coming from government ministries who believe “change must come more quickly.” A key problem for such rapid change that was recognized in Raúl’s recent report to the Party Congress was the need to eliminate as soon as possible the dual currency system (the CUC and the CUP), but the state’s subsidization of many prices in CUC makes that exceedingly difficult financially.

Inequality in Cuba

Guillermoprieto notes that there already is income and wealth inequality in Cuba growing out of its allowance of self-employment, i.e., private enterprise, in certain occupations over the last five years and the allowance of higher salaries or wages for medical doctors (now $67 per month) versus those employed in state-enterprises ($25 per month). The prospect is that there will be more inequality contrary to the ideals of the Revolution.

The recent allowance of higher salaries for Cuban physicians apparently was justified on the theory of a pyramid of workers with those with higher skills like doctors at the top of the pyramid earning higher salaries. Indeed, in Raúl’s speech to the Party Congress he complained about the inversion of the pyramid where lower-skilled workers like hotel bus boys and gas pump operators earn more through tips In hard currencies and illegal sales of gasoline than highly-skilled workers like physicians. This lamentable situation, said Castro, “does not allow work to be compensated in a fair manner, in accordance with its quantity, quality and complexity, or living standards to reflect citizens’ legal income.” This situation also generates “an unmotivated workforce and cadres, which also discourages employees from seeking out positions of greater responsibility.”

Guillermoprieto also reports that physicians who go on Cuba’s famous foreign medical missions are paid $500 per month ($300 while in the foreign country plus $200 deposited in a Cuban bank to encourage their return to the island). Because this is less than the Cuban government is paid for their services, she apparently regards this as unfair. I, however, draw the opposite conclusion while assuming her numbers are correct. The $500 per month is over seven times higher than the physician’s salary in Cuba and clearly is economically attractive to the physician. It totally negates the U.S. State Department contention that the Cuban doctors on foreign missions are engaged in illegal forced labor as discussed in a prior post.[4]

Conclusion

I am grateful for Guillermoprieto’s sharing her observations about Cuba. She provides additional evidence of the brokenness of the Cuban economic system and the difficulties of reforming or restructuring that system to include the advantages of free enterprise while simultaneously controlling its disadvantages.

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[1] Alma Guillermoprieto, Wikipedia. In her memoir, Dancing with Cuba: A Memoir of the Revolution, she recounts moving in 1970 from New York City to Havana to teach at Cuba’s National School of Dance. For six months, she worked in mirrorless studios (it was considered more revolutionary); her poorly trained but ardent students worked without them but dreamt of greatness. Yet in the midst of chronic shortages and revolutionary upheaval, Guillermoprieto found in Cuba a people whose sense of purpose touched her forever.

[2] Guillermoprieto, Cuba: The Big Change, N.Y. Rev. Books (May 12, 2016).

[3] New measures announced to regulate prices of agricultural produce, Granma (May 3, 2016)  Such price controls, however, are seen by most economists as misguided ways to cope with supply and demand issues.

[4] That earlier post pointed to a study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman, who said, “most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority [of Cuban doctors on foreign missions] are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude. Also relevant is the fact that Cuban medical education is free and in a quid-pro-quo the student agrees to serve in such missions upon becoming a doctor.

 

 

 

 

U.S. Upgrades Cuba in State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking

2015_TIP_REPORT_Cover_200_1On July 27 the U.S. Department of State released its 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, which is “the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking” and “ the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.”

In this Report, the Department placed 187 countries into one of the following four tiers based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” found in Section 108 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act:

  • TIER 1 [Thirty-one] countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards.
  • TIER 2 [Eighty-nine] countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
  • TIER 2 WATCH LIST [Forty-four] countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.
  • TIER 3 [Twenty-three] countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”

At the Department’s release of this Report, Secretary of State John Kerry made comments. In part, he said, “the purpose of this document is not to scold and it’s not to name and shame. It is to enlighten and to energize, and most importantly, to empower people. . . . [We] want to bring to the public’s attention the full nature and scope of a $150 billion illicit trafficking industry. . . . We want to provide evidence and facts that will help people who are already striving to achieve reforms to alleviate suffering and to hold people accountable. We want to provide a strong incentive for governments at every level to do all that they can to prosecute trafficking and to shield at-risk populations.”

Additional comments and responses to journalists’ questions were provided at the launch of this Report by Sarah Sewell, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights. She pointed out that “in this year’s report, some 18 countries moved up in the tier rankings, some 18 countries moved down in the tier rankings” and quoted the above statutory definitions of the different rankings.

The Report’s Assessment of Cuba’s Record on Human Trafficking

In the 2015 Report Cuba was placed in the Tier 2 Watch List, which was an upgrade from the prior year’s report that had Cuba in Tier 3.[1] The new Report states that although “information on the scope of sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba is limited, [c]hild sex trafficking and child sex tourism occur within Cuba. Cuban authorities report people from ages 13 to 20 are most vulnerable to human trafficking in Cuba. Traffickers also subject Cuban citizens to forced prostitution in South America and the Caribbean. . . . “

As a result, the Report concludes, “The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. For the second consecutive year, the government reported efforts to address sex trafficking, including the prosecution and conviction of 13 sex traffickers in 2013 and the provision of services to victims in those cases. The Cuban government reported at the beginning of 2015 that the Ministry of Labor and Social Security assumed the lead role in a committee responsible for combating gender and sexual violence, including sex trafficking. The penal code does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking, though the government reported continuing efforts to amend its criminal code, including bringing it into conformity with the requirements of the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, to which it acceded in July 2013. . . .”

In addition, the Report states the Cuban “government did not report any trafficking-specific shelters, but offered services to trafficking victims through centers for women and families harmed by violence. The Federation of Cuban Women, a government affiliated non-governmental organization, provided some outreach and education about human trafficking within the context of violence against women, but did not specifically address it as a crime involving sex trafficking and forced labor or affecting men and boys.”

The Report’s forced labor allegation is focused on Cuba’s “foreign medical missions, which employ more than 51,000 workers in over 67 countries and constitute a significant source of Cuban government income. Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other sources allege that Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; [but] the Cuban government denies these allegations. Some Cubans participating in these work missions have stated the postings are voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. There have also been claims that Cuban authorities coerced participants to remain in the program, including by allegedly withholding their passports, restricting their movement, or threatening to revoke their medical licenses or retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program. There are also claims about substandard working and living conditions and the existence of ‘minders’ to monitor victims outside of work. Some medical professionals participating in the missions are in possession of their passports when they apply for and obtain special United States visa and immigration benefits, indicating passport retention is not a consistent practice across all work missions.”

Consistent with its denial that its foreign medical missions involve forced labor, the Cuban government “did not recognize forced labor as a problem within Cuba and did not report efforts to prevent forced labor.”

The Report goes on to make the following recommendations for Cuba:  (1) “draft and pass a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits all forms of human trafficking, including an offense of forced labor;” (2) “vigorously investigate and prosecute sex trafficking and forced labor offenses;” (3) “schedule a visit and engage in robust discussions with the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons on all forms of human trafficking;” (4) “provide specialized training for managers in state owned or controlled enterprises in identifying and protecting victims of forced labor and implement policies to verify the absence of coercion in such enterprises;” (5) “train those responsible for enforcing the labor code to screen for trafficking indicators and educate workers about trafficking indicators and where to report trafficking-related violations;” (6) “strengthen efforts, in partnership with international organizations, to provide specialized victim identification and referral training for first responders; (7) establish formal policies and procedures to guide officials in the identification of all trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate services;” (8) “expand upon the Ministry of Labor and Social Security’s anti-trafficking responsibilities to include all forms of trafficking and male as well as female victims, and develop an action plan to address sex trafficking and forced labor for males and females;” and (9) “adopt policies that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male and female trafficking victims, including measures to ensure identified sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor.”

Under Secretary Sewell, elaborating on this assessment of Cuba in response to a journalist’s question, said, “Cuba was upgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List because of the progress that the government’s made in addressing and prosecuting sex trafficking, as well as the commitments that the Cuban Government has made to become compliant with the minimum standards. As noted in other cases, a Tier 2 Watch List ranking does not mean that a country is free from problems or free from human trafficking.”

According to Sewell, the Cuban “government reported significant efforts to address sex trafficking, including the conviction of sex traffickers, the provision of services to sex trafficking victims, and continued efforts of the ministry of tourism to address sex tourism and the demand for commercial sex. We also recognize the commitments the government has made to reform its laws to become compliant with the UN Palermo Protocol, which is a significant step, as well as the Cuban Government’s willingness to welcome the UN special rapporteur to the island.”

Nevertheless, Sewell continued, the U.S. has “a number of concerns such as the failure to recognize forced labor as a problem or to act to combat it. And so this will be very much a topic in our dialogue with Cuban officials as we work over the next year to try to help Cuba make more concrete progress in the realm of human trafficking.”

Reactions to the Report’s Assessment of Cuba

News media immediately highlighted the Report’s upgrades of Malaysia and Cuba, and a New York Times editorial was most critical of the assessment of Malaysia. Some U.S. Senators and Representatives launched criticism of those assessments in particular. Prominent with respect to Cuba, as expected, was Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), who said that by upgrading Malaysia and Cuba the administration had “elevated politics over the most basic principles of human rights” and vowed to do all he could “from hearings to legislation to investigations” to challenge the moves.” Representative Chris Smith (Rep., NJ) was upset by the same upgrades as well as relatively lenient ratings for Vietnam and China and stated the report had “careened off into a new direction where the facts regarding each government’s actions in the fight against human trafficking are given almost no weight when put up against the president’s political agenda.” Similar criticism came from Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL). [2]

A Reuters investigation concluded that the State Department’s office responsible for the TIP reports was overruled by senior Department officials on 14 of the 18 upgrades, including Malaysia, Cuba, China, India, Uzbekistan and Mexico. The final decision on disputed rankings this year, said Reuters, was made in meetings attended by some of the State Department’s most senior diplomats, including Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Kerry’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Finer.[3]

On July 29 the Chairman (Bob Corker (Rep., TN)) and the Ranking Member (Ben Cardin (Dem., MD)) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a joint letter asked Secretary of State John Kerry for a briefing on the Report in order “to better understand” the basis for its upgrade of several countries, including Malaysia and Cuba. They added, “We recognize that U.S. policy and engagement on trafficking does not exist in a vacuum, and we appreciate the many varied and nuanced trade-offs that are necessary between competing policy issues. We also believe that it is critical that the impartial reliability of the TIP Report be safeguarded and maintained if it is to have utility on this critical issue in the future.” [4]

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing

Under Secretary Sarah Sewell
Under Secretary           Sarah Sewell

On August 6 that Committee held a hearing on this subject with Under Secretary Sewell as its sole witness.[5]

She testified that in “most cases, this assessment process [of different countries’ record on human trafficking] clearly places governments into one of the tiers; in other cases, further discussion among senior Department officials is required to clarify information and assess the totality of government efforts. This ultimately leads to the Secretary of State’s designation of Tier rankings for each country and approval of the TIP Report. Tier rankings do not assess the severity of human trafficking in a given country, but rather that government’s efforts in addressing human trafficking problems over the current reporting period compared to its own efforts in the prior year. Determinations about the direction and quality of that progress in a given country are guided by complex criteria outlined in the TVPA and described on pages 45 through 50 of the TIP Report.”[6]

More specifically for the six countries, including Cuba, that moved up to Tier 2 Watch List this year, Sewell testified, “the Department closely evaluated the efforts those governments had made during the reporting period as well as the commitments they made for next year. Our posts are working with host governments to encourage them to implement the recommendations outlined in this year’s Report, and the TIP Office is finalizing assistance programming strategy to help make those recommendations a reality. I am receiving reports from the field on the frank and focused dialogues Embassy personnel are having with host government officials on how to overcome the challenges they face to better combat this crime and protect their citizens.”

With only Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Cardin and Senator Menendez in attendance, most of the questions focused on the upgrade of Malaysia. Corker, for example, said, “The administration’s policies toward those countries trumped any real regard for humans being trafficked.” The Department, he continued, “threw the trafficking phase under the bus to ensure that . . . [the Administration was] successful with [the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that included Malaysia].” [7] Menendez added a few comments and questions about the Cuba upgrade.

Sewell declined to answer questions about internal Department discussions about these upgrades and instead repeatedly emphasized that the statutory framework for tier rankings created a complex set of factors to be analyzed and that a Tier 2 Watch List ranking did not indicate a country had a great record on trafficking.[8]

At the conclusion of the hearing, Chair Corker said it had been the “most heartless, lacking of substance” presentation and that he and the two other Senators in attendance had the strong impression that inappropriate political considerations had influenced some or all of the tier upgrades. As a result, the Committee would be asking for the Department to produce records about its internal consideration of the tier rankings. Senator Cardin also said he was interested in exploring whether Congress should amend the relevant statutes in light of what a further hearing might disclose.

After the hearing, a State Department spokesman said that the Department was waiting for the committee to submit a formal request, “but speaking generally, of course we try to be responsive to Congress.”

Conclusion

I agree that the annual T.I.P. reports are important tools in combatting trafficking in persons and that these reports should be free of political influence. On the other hand, I believe that the relevant statutes appropriately create a complex set of factors that require analysis in reaching conclusions about placing countries in the different tiers and that it is appropriate for senior Department officials to be involved in that process.

With respect to Cuba, for at least the following reasons I disagree with the Report’s assertion that Cuban medical personnel’s participation in foreign medical missions is illegal forced labor:

  • First, the Report admits that “information on the scope of . . . forced labor in Cuba is limited.”
  • Second, the Report admits that there is conflicting information and allegations on the foreign medical mission work. Coercion is alleged by “some participants” and “other sources.” On the other hand, the Cuban government denies these allegations, and other participants “have stated the postings are voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba.” The Report also concedes there is conflicting information on whether other means, including withholding Cuban passports, are used to coerce or force participants to remain in the program.
  • Third, there apparently has not been any fair adjudicative process to determine which of these conflicting sets of information is valid.
  • Fourth, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman. He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.[9]
  • Fifth, the Report does not cite to the relevant legal definition of “forced labor” to assess this claim. Most pertinent is Article 2(2) of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which states, in part, ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . .  any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphasis added.) [10] Cuba is a “fully self-governing country” and the participants in the foreign medical missions are Cuban “citizens,” and as Professor Erisman states, such participation is regarded as “part of the normal civic obligations” of such citizens with the appropriate medical qualifications.
  • Sixth, relevant to this issue, but not mentioned in the Report, is the fact that medical education in Cuba (at the Latin American School of Medicine) is free. As a result requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation. Indeed, as Professor Erisman reports, Cuban medical professionals, especially doctors, may apply to leave Cuba after they have obtained their free medical education and thereafter provided three to five years of service in the country.

We now await the Committee’s formal request for Department documents, the production of such documents and additional hearings on the subject. In the meantime, as always, I welcome comments of correction or amplification.

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[1] A prior post examined in detail the prior human trafficking report about Cuba.

[2] Reuters, U.S. Softens View of Malaysia, Cuba in Human Trafficking Report, N.Y. Times (July 27, 2015); Reuters, Obama Administration Faces Criticism Over Human Trafficking Report, N.Y. Times (Aug. 3, 2015); Editorial: Obama Administration Ignores Malaysia’s Trafficking Record, N. Y. Times (July 31, 2015); Menendez, Press Release: Sen. Menendez on Human Trafficking Report Politicization (July 27, 2015); Rubio, Press Release: Rubio: State Department’s Human Trafficking Report Should Be Based on Reality Not Politics (July 27, 2015).

[3] Reuters, Special Report-U.S. State Department Watered Down Human Trafficking Report, N.Y. Times (Aug. 3, 2015).

[4] Reuters, Lawmakers Want State Briefing on Trafficking Report, N.Y. Times (July 29, 2015); U.S. Sen. Foreign Relations Comm., Press Release: Senators Cardin and Corker Request Briefing on State Department’s Trafficking in Person Report in Letter to Secretary Kerry (July 29, 2015); Reuters, Lawmakers to Demand Full Accounting on Human Trafficking Report, N.Y. Times (Aug. 4, 2015).

[5] Senate Foreign Relations Comm., Review of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report (Aug. 6, 2015); Hattem, Senators accuse State Dept. of picking politics over human trafficking, The Hill (Aug. 6, 2015); Reuters, Top Senator Demands State Department Documents on Human Trafficking Report, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2015); Assoc. Press, Senators Demand Documents Over Malaysia Trafficking Upgrade, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2015); Corker, Corker Fears Politicization of State Department’s 2015 Human Trafficking Report Over Questionable Upgrades (Aug. 2015); Cardin, Senator Cardin Statement Regarding 2015 Human Trafficking Report (Aug. 6, 2015).

[6] Sarah Sewell, Testimony to Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Aug. 6, 2015).

[7] Secretary of State Kerry, who was in Malaysia on the day of the hearing, categorically denied that politics had played any role in the ranking of Malaysia. “I personally signed off on it. And I had zero conversation with anybody in the administration about the Trans-Pacific Partnership relative to this decision — zero. The reason I made this decision was based on the recommendation of my team, because Malaysia has passed additional legislation in 2014, they’ve consulted with civil society, they drafted amendments to Malaysia’s anti-trafficking law in order to allow the country’s flawed victim protection regime to change.” (Assoc. Press, Kerry: Malaysia Trafficking Upgrade Not Due to Trade Talks, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2015); Reuters, Kerry Says ‘Zero Communication’ on Trade Pact and Malaysian Trafficking Record,  N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2015).

[8] The text of the U.S. statutes regarding trafficking in persons is set forth on a State Department web page and the Report contains a summary of “forced labor” without any mention of the exceptions to the definition discussed below.

[9] Erisman, Brain Drain Politics: the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Programme, Int’l J. Cuban Studies 269, 286-87 (2012).

[10] This and other parts of the definition of “forced or compulsory labour” were reaffirmed in Article 1(3) of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.