U.S.’ Latest Assessment of Cuba’s Record on Human Trafficking

As mentioned in a prior post about the recent U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Annual Report 2014, the Department gave Cuba the worst ranking (Tier 3). This post examines that assessment (Report at 148-50).

Positive Aspects of Cuban Record on Trafficking

Even though the Report reached an overall negative evaluation of Cuba’s record on this subject, a close examination of the Report uncovers many positive comments about that record.

First, the Report admits that on July 20, 2013, Cuba acceded to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, a key multilateral treaty on the subject.[1]

The Report conceded that Cuba prohibits some forms of human trafficking through the following laws: Article 299.1 (pederasty with violence); Article 300.1 (lascivious abuse); Article 302 (procuring and trafficking in persons); Article 303 (sexual assault); Article 310.1 (corruption of minors for sexual purposes); Article 312.1 (corruption of minors for begging); and Article 316.1 (sale and trafficking of a child under 16).

The Report also acknowledges that other parts of the Cuban penal code cover sex trafficking, but then engages in a microscopic criticism of that code because it supposedly does not meet what the U.S. regards as the ideal set of such laws.[2]

Moreover, the Report states that the Cuban government has advised the U.S. that Cuba “intends to amend its criminal code to ensure that it is in conformity with the requirements of the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.” This will be a part of the process “of generally revising its criminal code.” Presumably those forthcoming amendments should satisfy at least some, if not all, of the detailed U.S. criticisms.

The Report says, “For the first time, [in October 2013] the [Cuban] government presented official data on investigations and prosecutions of sex trafficking offenses and convictions of sex trafficking offenders. In 2012, the year covered by . . .[that] official Cuban report, the government reported 10 prosecutions and corresponding convictions of sex traffickers. At least six of the convictions involved nine child sex trafficking victims within Cuba, including the facilitation of child sex tourism in Cuba. The average sentence was nine years’ imprisonment. The government reported that a government employee (a teacher) was investigated, prosecuted, and convicted of a sex trafficking offense. There were no reported forced labor prosecutions or convictions.”

“Victims under 18,” says the U.S. Report, “were clearly identified by the Cuban government in 2012 as trafficking victims, and the perpetrators of these crimes were punished more severely in some cases when the victim was younger than 16.”

The Report continues, Cuban “child protection specialists reportedly provided training to police academy students. Students at the Ministry of Interior academy and police who were assigned to tourist centers reportedly received specific anti-trafficking training. The government reported that employees of the Ministries of Tourism and Education received training to spot indicators of trafficking, particularly among children engaged in commercial sex. The government demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with other governments on investigations of possible traffickers.”

Another concession in the Report was its acknowledging that “the Federation of Cuban Women, a government entity that also receives funding from international organizations, operates 173 Guidance Centers for Women and Families nationwide and reported that these centers provided assistance to 2,480 women and families harmed by violence, including victims of trafficking. These centers assisted the women from their initial contact with law enforcement through prosecution of the offenders. Social workers at the Guidance Centers provided services for victims of trafficking and other crimes such as psychological treatment, health care, skills training, and assistance in finding employment. The four adult trafficking victims identified by the Cuban government reportedly received services at these Guidance Centers.”

Cuban “authorities reported that the Ministry of Education identified other sex trafficking cases while addressing school truancy incidents.”

“The [Cuban] government made efforts to protect victims during the reporting period. Authorities reported that they identified nine child sex trafficking victims and four adult sex trafficking victims linked to the 2012 convictions; authorities reported no identified labor trafficking victims or male victims. Though the government had systems in place to identify and assist a broader group of vulnerable women and children, including trafficking victims, the government did not share any documentation of trafficking-specific procedures to guide officials in proactively identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable groups and referring them to available services.”

“The [Cuban] police encouraged child trafficking victims under the age of 17 to assist in prosecutions of traffickers by operating three facilities where law enforcement and social workers worked together to support the collection of testimony and the treatment of sexually and physically abused children. These victim-centered facilities gathered children’s testimony though psychologist- led videotaped interviewing, usually removing the need for children to appear in court. In addition to collecting testimony, government social workers developed a specific plan for the provision of follow-on services. The facilities assisted the nine identified child trafficking victims and reportedly referred them to longer term psychological care, shelter, and other services as needed.”

“The [Cuban] government asserted that none of the identified victims were [sic] punished, and authorities reported having policies that ensured identified victims were not punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. There were no reports of foreign trafficking victims in Cuba.”

The Cuban government also “launched a media campaign to educate the Cuban public about trafficking and publicized its anti- trafficking services.” More specifically, according to the U.S. Report, Cuban “state media produced newspaper articles and television and radio programs to raise public awareness about trafficking. Senior public officials, including the Minister of Justice, publicly raised the problem of trafficking. The government maintained an Office of Security and Protection within the Ministry of Tourism charged with monitoring Cuba’s image as a tourism destination and combating sex tourism.”

Negative Aspects of Cuba’s Record

According to the Report, “Cuba is a source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking . . . . Child prostitution and child sex tourism occur within Cuba. Cuban authorities report that young people from ages 13 to 20 are most vulnerable to human trafficking in Cuba. Cuban citizens have been subjected to forced prostitution outside of Cuba.”

In addition, the Report addresses the issue of whether or not Cuba engages in forced labor, and an objective reading of that portion of the Report leads to the conclusion that there is no proof of such a practice. The Report asserts that “Cuba is a source country for adults and children subjected to . . . possibly forced labor.” There have been “allegations of coerced labor with Cuban government work missions abroad; the Cuban government denies these allegations. Some Cubans participating in the work missions have stated that the postings are voluntary, and positions are well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. Others have claimed that Cuban authorities have coerced them, including by withholding their passports and restricting their movement. Some medical professionals participating in the missions have been able to take advantage of U.S. visas or immigration benefits, applying for those benefits and arriving in the United States in possession of their passports—an indication that at least some medical professionals retain possession of their passports. Reports of coercion by Cuban authorities in this program do not appear to reflect a uniform government policy of coercion; however, information is lacking. The government arranges for high school students in rural areas to harvest crops, but claims that this work is not coerced.” (Emphases added.)

The scope of trafficking involving Cuban citizens is difficult to verify because of sparse independent reporting . . . .”

As previously mentioned, the Report criticizes Cuba for not having a comprehensive set of laws on the subject. The Report says that although the “Government of Cuba prosecuted and convicted sex trafficking cases, . . . its overall effort was hampered by the absence of a comprehensive legal framework that criminalizes all forms of human trafficking.” The same point was put this way: the “government has yet to establish a legal and policy framework prohibiting all forms of human trafficking and providing explicit victim protections.”

“The government did not operate any shelters or services specifically for adult trafficking victims.”

“The government did not report the existence of an established anti-trafficking task force or structured monitoring mechanism.”

The Report concludes that the “Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking 3] and is not making significant efforts [4] to do so.” The italicized phrases have complex statutory definitions, but the U.S. Report did not say what specific elements of these definitions allegedly were not satisfied, and I will not attempt to identify those elements based upon the rest of the Report.

U.S. Recommendations for Cuba

The U.S. Report made the following recommendations for Cuba:

  • “Revise existing anti-trafficking laws to incorporate a definition of trafficking that is consistent with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; adopt a definition of a minor for the purposes of human trafficking consistent with the Protocol (under 18 years),” but Cuba, as previously noted, already has said it would be doing so this year.
  • “[C]ontinue and strengthen efforts, in partnership with international organizations, to provide specialized training for police, labor inspectors, social workers, and child protection specialists in identifying and protecting victims of sex trafficking and forced labor, including by having in place clear written policies and procedures to guide officials in the identification of trafficking victims, regardless of age or gender, and their referral to appropriate services;” but as the first word of this recommendation admits, Cuba already is doing most, if not all, of these activities according to the U.S. Report.
  • “[A]dopt 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;”
  • “[E]nact and implement policies to ensure no use of coercion in Cuban work-abroad missions,” but the Report had admitted that Cuba denies that it uses coercion;
  • “[P]rovide specialized training for managers of work-abroad missions in identifying and protecting victims of forced labor;”
  • “[C]riminally prosecute both sex trafficking and forced labor; and
  • “C]ontinue funding and expand the victim-centered practices of three government facilities for collection of testimony of young children.

Cuba’s Reaction

On June 20th the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the above U.S. assessment. It said the U.S. ignored “the recognition and prestige of our country for their outstanding role in child protection performance, youth and women.”

The Cuban statement noted that Cuba had not requested the U.S. assessment or needed recommendations from the U.S., which was “one of the countries with the greatest problems of trafficking of children and women in the world.” The U.S. “has no moral [right] to rate Cuba, nor to suggest [a] plan of any kind, when it is estimated that the number of U.S. citizens who are trafficked within the country is close to 200,000, where labor exploitation is . . . widespread . . ., where 85% of the [U.S.} legal process . . . [on] this topic are cases of sexual exploitation, and where more than 300 thousand children, [plus] the million who leave their homes, are subject to any form of exploitation.”

“The Government of Cuba categorically rejects as unfounded the [U.S.] unilateral exercise that offends our people. Inclusion [of Cuba] on this list [is] totally politically motivated, as is the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of international terrorism.” The U.S. Tier 3 designation of Cuba “is aimed to justify the policy of blockade” and “financial sanctions, [which] the Government of the United States increasingly intensifies, causing severe damages to our children, youth, women and all our people.”


Cuba’s statement correctly and legitimately points out that it had never requested the U.S. to assess Cuba’s record on this subject or to make recommendations to Cuba.

Instead, Cuba as a member of the U.N. and its Human Rights Council and as a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol implicitly, if not explicitly, has consented to such assessments and recommendations from the Council’s Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children, whose mandate includes promoting “the prevention of trafficking in persons in all its forms and the adoption of measures to uphold and protect the human rights of victims; . . . [and making] recommendations on practical solutions with regard to the implementation of the rights relevant to the mandate, including by the identification of concrete areas and means for international cooperation to tackle the issue of trafficking in persons. . . .”

One of the methods for implementation this mandate is for the Special Rapporteur to undertake “country visits in order to study the situation in situ and formulate recommendations to prevent and or combat trafficking and protect the human rights of its victims in specific countries.” Such a visit to Cuba has not yet happened, but it could be done and provide the evaluator with actual experience on the island with the cooperation of the Cuban government, which the U.S. Department of State, of course, did not have.

In any event, I do not have information sufficient to confirm or deny the U.S. assessment of Cuba on human trafficking or Cuba’s rejection of same, but the previously mentioned “unpacking” of the U.S. Report itself leads this reader to conclude that the overall worst rating for Cuba is not justified. Perhaps the U.S. authorizing statute for this report and Cuba’s not yet having amended its criminal code to comply with the UN TIP Protocol meant the State Department was legally unable to give Cuba a different ranking.

Accepting everything said about Cuba in the Report and assuming the State Department legally was unable to give Cuba a higher ranking, it would have been much more productive, in my opinion, for the Report to have said something like the following:

  • The U.S. applauds Cuba for making significant progress on combatting human traffic in 2013. It acceded to the UN TIP Protocol and is in the process of determining how to revise its criminal code to comply with that Protocol. It has prosecuted individuals for violations of its existing laws and has established centers to care for victims of trafficking. It has issued a public report about these prosecutions, has aided and protected victims of these crimes, provided appropriate training to various Cubans to help them identify such situations and conducted media campaigns to educate the public about these matters.
  • The U.S. regrets that U.S. laws governing this Report require this year’s Tier 3 ranking for Cuba, but we anticipate and hope that this will be the last such ranking for the proud Cuban government and people.
  • Because Cuba already is well on the way to improving its laws and practices regarding human trafficking, there is no need for the U.S. to be making recommendations on this subject to Cuba. If, however, Cuba would like any U.S. assistance on this important subject, the U.S. would be glad to respond.

Yes, State Department, such a statement would have been more diplomatic too.


[1] UN TIP Protocol or PROTOCOL TO PREVENT, SUPPRESS AND PUNISH TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS, ESPECIALLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN, SUPPLEMENTING THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION AGAINST TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME. This Protocol was adopted because of the conviction that “supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime with an international instrument for the prevention, suppression and punishment of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, will be useful in preventing and combating that crime.” There are now 159 states parties, including the U.S. and Cuba, the latter of which acceded with a declaration that, “in accordance with the provisions of Article 15, paragraph 3 of the Protocol, it does not consider itself bound by the provisions of paragraph 2 of that Article” that requires that “[a]ny dispute between two or more States Parties concerning the interpretation or application of this Protocol that cannot be settled through negotiation within a reasonable time shall . . . [under certain conditions] be submitted to arbitration [or] the International Court of Justice.”

[2] The Report says the Cuban “definition of sex trafficking appears to conflate sex trafficking with prostitution and pimping. The law criminalizes adult sex trafficking achieved through force, coercion, or abuse of power or a position of vulnerability, although the use of such means is considered an aggravating factor (to a crime of inducing or benefitting from prostitution), not an integral part of the crime. It does not explicitly include the use of fraud and physical force within the list of aggravating factors that make coercion of prostitution a crime. The provision addressing corruption of minors encompasses many of the forms of child sex trafficking, but its definition of a minor as a child under 16 years old is inconsistent with the definition under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, which defines a child as any person under the age of 18; this means 16- and 17-year-olds engaged in prostitution for the benefit of a third party would not necessarily be identified as trafficking victims. Although anyone inducing children between the ages of 16 and 18 to engage in prostitution would not be identified as traffickers under Cuban law, forced prostitution is illegal irrespective of age of the victim, and the government has prosecuted individuals benefitting from the prostitution of children.” In addition, the U.S. says,” Both adult and child sex trafficking provisions fail explicitly to criminalize recruitment, transport, and receipt of persons for these purposes.”

[3] The above statutory phrase means: (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.”

[4] The above phrase apparently is a short-hand reference to the statutory phrase–“serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons”—which has its own statutory definition.

Latest U.S. Report on Global Human Trafficking



On June 20, 2014, the U.S. Department of State released  its Trafficking in Persons Report 2014 (TIP).

The Department asserts that along with the other annual  reports, this TIP is “the world’s most comprehensive  resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts  and reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights and law enforcement issue. It represents an updated, global look at the nature and scope of trafficking in persons and the broad range of government actions to confront and eliminate it. . . . The U.S. . . . uses the TIP Report to engage foreign governments in dialogues to advance anti-trafficking reforms and to combat trafficking and to target resources on prevention, protection and prosecution programs.”

Secretary of State            John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry

On the release of this TIP, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “For years, we have known that this crime affects every country in the world, including ours. We’re not exempt. More than 20 million people, a conservative estimate, are victims of human trafficking. And the [U.S.] is the first to acknowledge that no government anywhere yet is doing enough. We’re trying. Some aren’t trying enough. Others are trying hard. And we all need to try harder and do more.”

Kerry also rejected criticism that the U.S.’ preparing and publishing such a report was an unjustified action. He said, “This is not an act of arrogance. We hold ourselves to the same standard. This is an act of conscience. It is a requirement as a matter of advocacy and as a matter of doing what is right.”

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador              Luis CdeBaca

The last point was echoed by Luis CdeBaca, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large, State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. He said the U.S. itself has been included in this report since 2010 as “a matter of fairness to all of the other countries; if we’re going to hold them to these minimum standards, [then] . . . we needed to hold ourselves to them as well.” He added, “no country is doing a perfect job on the fight against human trafficking, and that includes the [U.S.]. We are all in this together.”


Criteria for U.S. Evaluation of Countries’ Trafficking Records

Under its authorizing legislation,[1] the State Department is required to assess the extent to which countries comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” set forth in the legislation. Those standards are the following:

(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.”[2]

The statute also requires the State Department, based upon reliable information, to place countries into the following classes or tiers:

  • “Tier 1. Countries whose governments fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”[3]
  • “Tier 2. 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. 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 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.”
  • “Tier 3. Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”[4] (Emphases in original.)

The U.S. Assessments of Countries Trafficking Records for 2013

The following table summarizes the number of countries in different areas of the world in the different tiers (Report at 58):


Area Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 2Watch List Tier 3 Special Case Total
Africa 00 26 17 10 01 54
Asia 03 20 09 06 00 38
Europe 21 16 02 00 00 39
Middle East 01 05 04 04 00 14
Pacific 02 03 02 01 00 08
Western Hemisphere 04[Canada, Chili, Nicaragua & U.S.] 19 10 02 [Cuba & Venezuela] 00 35
Total 31 89 44 23 01 188

The Report’s rankings are based upon “information from U.S. embassies, government officials, non-governmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips to every region of the world, and information submitted to [a dedicated Department email address]. . . . The U.S. diplomatic posts and domestic agencies . . . [in turn conduct] thorough research that included meetings with a wide variety of government officials, local and international NGO representatives, officials of international organizations, journalists, academics, and survivors.” (Report at 37.)

Penalties for Tier 3 Countries

Under the authorizing statute, “governments of countries on Tier 3 may be subject to certain restrictions on bilateral assistance, whereby the U.S. government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, non- trade-related foreign assistance. In addition, certain countries on Tier 3 may not receive funding for government employees’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs . . . . [G]overnments subject to restrictions would also face U.S. opposition to assistance (except for humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development- related assistance) from international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”(Report at 44.)


Because of this blogger’s special interest in Cuba, a subsequent post will analyze this Report’s assigning Cuba to Tier 3.


[1] Since 2000 the U.S. has had a series of federal statutes addressing efforts to combat human trafficking. The first such statute was the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 that required, in part, certain annual reports on trafficking. Subsequent federal statutes were the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003; the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005; the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008; and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013 [Title XII of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013]. See 22 U.S.C., ch. 78.

[2] The statute defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” and “serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons.” (Report at 9.)

[3] According to the Report, “While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem or that it is doing enough to address the problem. Rather, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, has made efforts to address the problem, and meets the [statute’s] . . . minimum standards. Each year, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress in combating trafficking to maintain a Tier 1 ranking.” (Report at 40.)

[4] The statute “lists additional factors to determine whether a country should be on Tier 2 (or Tier 2 Watch List) versus Tier 3.” (Report at 43.)