The United States included Nicaragua on its human trafficking blacklist Thursday when presenting its annual report on the matter, in which it warned that the coronavirus pandemic has caused an increase in this illegal practice.
“Instability and lack of access to critical services caused by the pandemic mean that the number of people vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers is rapidly growing,” said the head of US diplomacy, Mike Pompeo, in the introduction to the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP).
The TIP, which since 2001 has been issued by the State Department on the mandate of Congress, added Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Algeria and Lesotho to the list of 15 countries that Washington says are not doing enough to combat this scourge. Cuba and Venezuela were already in this category, as well as China, Iran and Russia.
“The Government of Nicaragua does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so,” the report said.
Daniel Ortega’s government “did not convict any traffickers,” “did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses, despite endemic official corruption,” and “did not cooperate with NGOs” to protect victims, it added, highlighting a higher risk for women, children and migrants.
Entering this list can lead to sanctions. The United States could limit foreign assistance or withdraw its support for countries in multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.
In the case of Cuba, the State Department highlighted a “government policy or pattern” of forced labor in its program of foreign medical missions, a constant reason for friction between Washington and Havana.
The United States ambassador in charge of fighting human trafficking, John Richmond, stressed that in the midst of the pandemic, traffickers find ways to “capitalize on the chaos.”
Alert on Venezuela
The report also drew attention to the situation in Venezuela, whose acute economic deterioration since Nicolás Maduro came to power in 2013 caused the emigration of some 5 million people, according to the UN.
“Authorities did not report assisting any victims, or investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any traffickers,” the report reads. “Venezuelan authorities did not make sufficient efforts to curb the forced recruitment of Venezuelan children.”
Costa Rica remains at Tier 2
Costa Rica remained at Tier 2, where it has been since 2017. Previously, the country had spent 2015 and 2016 on the Tier 2 Watch List, one level worse.
“The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Costa Rica remained on Tier 2,” the report reads.
“These efforts included investigating and convicting more traffickers under the trafficking provision of the penal code, increasing victim identification, reducing the backlog of trafficking cases, and disbursing a greater percentage of the allotted anti-trafficking budget.”
The Pacific coastal zones and Costa Rica’s northern and southern borders are the areas of highest risk, the TIP says.
El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico also remained in Tier 2, along with Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay.