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Trafficking and diplomatic bias in the Americas

Last week the State Department released its eleventh annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which ranks 184 countries on how well they’re doing in the fight against human trafficking. Countries are placed in one of three tiers according to how well they comply with the Department’s minimum standards. Basically, Tier 1 countries are those doing the most to combat trafficking, Tier 3 countries are the ones doing the least to prevent it, and Tier 2 countries are somewhere in between.

Theoretically, it’s a great report. It’s important that the State Department is making this a priority, and not leaving it exclusively to the domain of NGOs with great expertise in important areas but, in many cases, a lack of political clout to affect change.

Certain aspects of the report are iffy, though. For one thing, there’s the question of the United States as “a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons.” Last year was the first time the US included itself on the list, and unsurprisingly, it awarded itself with a Tier 1 ranking. This ranking may very well be deserved, but the conflict of interest is apparent.

Meanwhile, Adam Isacson from the Washington Office on Latin America, makes an interesting observation on the rankings of the countries in the Americas. Other than the United States, almost all countries in the region are given the Tier 2 designation, meaning they’re all doing some — but not enough — to combat trafficking in persons.

There are three exceptions: Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela. Yes, Colombia is known for its good relationship with the US and Cuba and Venezuela, of course, are known for just the opposite. And yes, Colombia is placed in Tier 1, while Cuba and Venezuela are given the region’s only Tier 3 rankings. Obviously, this isn’t to say that Colombia isn’t taking strides to fight trafficking or that trafficking isn’t a problem in the two nations with the most outspoken anti-American presidents. But I agree with Isacson that it does cast some unfortunate doubt on the report’s credibility.

If you’d like to support the work of organizations working to stop trafficking in the Americas and elsewhere, please consider International Justice Mission or World Vision.