Human Trafficking and The Caribbean: Part 1


The US State Department recently issued the 10th Annual Trafficking In Person’s Report.

Before folks begin to comment about their positions on human trafficking I want to let folks know that I support sex workers and my definition of sex work includes some of the work I have done in the past and continue to do. I’ve interrogated this term and my own participation in expanding the definition in the past. I also recognize that there is a difference between people who are forced to make hard decisions for themselves that may result in a particular form of sex work and someone being forced into sex work. In addition, the US State Department uses the term “human trafficking” to describe: “forced labor, slavery, and slavery-like practices.” 

I am not a fan of taking away anyone’s agency to fulfill my own personal agenda of “social justice” and whatever I think is “moral.” With that said, this post focuses on the US State Department findings and how countries are ranked and categorized as “problematic.” I seek to begin to examine what these findings and rankings do to international communities and people, like myself, who identify as Caribbean, Pan-African, transnational, radical people of Color who work with international communities.

The State Department report examined international progress, laws, and law enforcement surrounding human trafficking. The US has chosen to create ranks (hierarchies) to classify some countries and their work/progress/performance around eliminating human trafficking. Each ranking is called a tier and there are three: Tier 1 is the highest and Tier 3 is the lowest-performing ranking of countries. If a country is in Tier 3 they risk losing any “non-humanitarian aid” provided by the United States. (I really don’t know what that means for countries classified as “Third World,” if someone could explain it to me I’d greatly appreciate it (and yes part of my confusion is because I would imagine any aid to be humanitarian).

Tier 1 is defined by State as: “Countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards.”

Tier 2 is defined as: “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 (2WL) is defined as:

“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; or
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 themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.” Finally, Tier 3 is defined as: “Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”

To the surprise of maybe a few, the list of Tier 3 includes (full list of Tiers begins on page 47 of report): Burma, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Iran, Kuwait, Mauritania, North Korea, Papua-New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Yeah, so a handful of these countries are at the center of wars the US has some sort of investment in and others the US has rarely ever “played nice with” historically. There are far too many countries listed here to give a better description of each history, so may I suggest a few books in general for context: A People’s History of the US; Strangers From A DIfferent Shore; A People’s History Of The World; Feminism Without Boarders: Decoloizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity.

Last year Chad, Fiji, Malaysia, Niger, Swaziland and Syria where in Tier 3 but were moved up to Tier 2 because of progress each country made. Included in Tier 2 are:

Angola, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Belarus, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Greece, Hondorus, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Liberia, Macau, Macedonia, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Nambia, Nepal, Neth. Antilles, Pakistan, Palau, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Suriname, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Zambia.

Tier 2WL includes:

Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangledesh, Barbados, Belize, Brunei, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China (PRC), Congo (ROC), Cote D’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta Micronesia, Moldova, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Panama, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Senegal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen.

To the surprise of no one the US has ranked itself in Tier 1, the highest tier possible to occupy. Among them are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom.

Haiti and Somalia were considered “special causes.”

What I find interesting about this report is that Puerto Rico is not listed at all. On the almost 8 page discussion of the United States, Puerto Rico is listed as well as other US territories (Northern Mariana Island, Guam and US Virgin Islands). I am assuming that Puerto Rico ranks in Tier 1 even though the report states:

In the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, sex trafficking appears to be more prevalent, involving Puerto Rican children as well as foreign women from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and China. There are reports of involuntary domestic servitude as well as forced labor in a shrimp processing facility. Puerto Rico has no local anti-trafficking law. Reports indicated that suspected incidents are referred to federal authorities. Even with a federal presence and a documented human trafficking problem, Puerto Rico has yet to prosecute a human trafficking case. (Pg 344-345)

This seems to still be the case, especially according to the report: Human Traficking in Puerto Rico: An Invisible Change published January 2010 supported by actor, singer, and activist Ricky Martin.

What is most striking to me, and what prompted this post, is the response by governments of various Caribbean countries, many of which belong to CARICOM  (Caribbean Community). Puerto Rico does not belong to CARICOM for various reasons (although they did request observer status a few years back), but it’s something I think important to understand in this discussion. The Jamaican newspaper The Observer posted an article summarizing Jamaica’s continued categorized in Tier 2. The responses to the report are what I find most fascinating. Below are a sample of some of the responses by community members to the article:

Chicken Foote
6/15/2010
Check this out:
US demands that Jamaica control it’s borders and the drug trafficking to the US. Jamaica responds with YES SIR!
Jamaica sheepishly asks the US to tighten and control the export of guns to Jamaica. US responds:” You have to secure your borders”. Enough said………..

Nina Nais
6/15/2010
Once again, the US is the policeman of the world. Their reports always sound so disengaged from reality.
I seriously doubt there is a huge problem with human trafficking (as it is commonly understood) in Jamaica. There is forced sexual activity or rape of young women in some poor urban communities, which must be stopped, but that isn’t human trafficking. And those persons entering prostitution in tourist and urban areas usually do so out of economic compulsion rather than being forced by dons

Lu Pa
6/15/2010
Well people, you should now by now this is how the US operates, they get a bone and squeeze it dry. remember they rule supreme over human trafficking, prostitution,drug dealings, guns etc, everything is bigger in the US but if no one call them out in broad day light its not happing, and it must be their own media that can do it because they one else will be lying, thats not to say they wont stomp on the little guy, after all who is the biggest bully in the world?

Marzo Lewzo
6/15/2010
This report is so flawed. And yes people; it’s a US State Department report. Jamaica don are known for a lot of criminal activities mainly extortion and drug trafficking but not prostitution, They are not PIMPS. This human trafficking is a bigger problem in the streets of Detroit and LA, compared to Jamaica.

The Kaieteur News reported that the Government of Guyana was extremely angry with being in Tier 2. Priya Manickchand, Minister of Human Services and Social Security was reported as saying:  “We are friends with the US, but this kind of reporting is hurting our friendship and really I believe is based on sheer ignorance and eye-pass and this report could, I think, be legitimately considered crap.”

What do others think of the US reporting and Tier categories? Is this really a way to create change in the lives of people who are living in poverty around the world? Is this report representative and useful? What can we learn from such a report and how can we use it’s information in working within and among our communities?

I highly recommend reading the following texts for more background on sex work in the Caribbean:

•    Sun, Sex & Gold: Tourism and Sex Work in the Caribbean by Kamala Kempandoo (Editor)
•    Sexing The Caribbean: Gender, Race and Sexual Labor by Kamala Kempandoo
•    What’s Love Got To Do With It?: Transnational Desires and Sex In The Dominican Republic by Denise Brennan

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