Caracas, Venezuela, June 3, 2005—The Venezuelan Embassy in the US issued a communiqué today, objecting to the classification of Venezuela as a Tier 3 country in the US State Department Trafficking in Persons 2005 Report. The communiqué denounced the classification as a "demonstration of how the [Bush] administration has politicized its work on human rights" and proceeded to list Venezuela’s efforts to combat human trafficking. “It is the hope of the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that those in public office in the United States would look at this matter with the objectivity it deserves, rather than through the political lens that has led to this highly political, unilaterally driven, and unfair conclusion by the U.S. Department of State."
The State Department's annual Human Trafficking Report ranks countries into tiers based on their perception of a government’s efforts to comply with the State Department-defined "minimum standards" for combating the illicit practice.
In addition to meeting these "minimum standards," a tier 1 country will generally have less than 100 victims of trafficking, while a tier 2 country may have 10's of thousands of victims, but according to the opinion of the United States, is "making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance" with the minimum standards. In spite of these "significant efforts" countries may be placed on the Tier 2 Special Watch List, depending on whether the number of victims increased over the course of the past year or whether the effectiveness of a government's policies and/or efforts to combat trafficking have decreased the number of victims.
This is the second year in a row that Venezuela has been ranked as a Tier 3 country, putting it in the company of nations such as Burma, Cambodia, Kuwait, North Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Togo and the United Arab Emirates. A Tier 3 country is defined as a country "whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so."
The 1 ½ pages criticizing Venezuela of the 253 page Report raised several hypothetical scenarios but failed to provide any evidence that showed that these trends are occurring in the country. Beginning by declaring Venezuela to be "a source, transit and destination country" for human trafficking – a definition that was molded and applied in some form to almost every Tier 2, Tier 2 Special List Watch and Tier 3 country - the Report named two "at risk" groups: children and illegal migrants. "Venezuelan children in border areas risk trafficking to mining camps in Guyana for sexual exploitation, or forced soldiering or sexual exploitation by Colombian armed insurgent groups.” Classifying Venezuela as a “transit country” for illegal migrants, the Report contends that “some [of these illegal migrants] are believed to be trafficking victims.”
During a State Department press conference announcing the release of the Report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice estimated that over 800,000 people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. For every Tier 3 country, with the exception of Venezuela and Cuba, as well as the majority of Tier 2 and Tier 2 Special Watch countries, data on the number of victims and the type of human trafficking they had been forced into, was provided.
For example, the Brazilian report reads, "approximately 70,000 Brazilians, most of them women, are engaged in prostitution in foreign countries…trafficking for forced agricultural labor remains a major problem, with most of the more than 25,000 victims recruited from small towns in Brazil's northeast." The specific number of human trafficking complaints filed with the Brazilian government—259—and the number of victims that were rescued over the course of the past year—2,743—is also provided.
Likewise, the Report presents detailed information on Rwanda, also a Tier 2 country, speaking of the vulnerability of Rwandan children in refugee camps in the Congo, to forced recruitment and rape and mentions that 122 boys received three months of counseling and that another 87 are currently completing the therapy. In the case of Kuwait, a Tier 3 country, complaints are spelled out in detail. "Victims suffer debt bondage, involuntary sexual servitude, coerced labor, verbal and physical abuse, and the withholding of their passports or other required travel documents." Criticisms of fellow Tier 3 country North Korea, are also clearly elaborated. "Thousands of North Korean men, women, and children are forced to work and often perish under conditions of slavery inside the country. Thousands of North Koreans, pushed by deteriorating conditions in the country, become economic migrants who are subjected to conditions of debt bondage, commercial sexual exploitation, and/or forced labor upon arrival in a destination country, most often the People's Republic of China."
Detailed data is also provided for other Tier 2 countries such as Egypt, Sri Lanka, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan, as well as countries in the Tier 2 Watch List: Cameroon, China, Haiti, India, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uzbekistan; however, the Report fails to elaborate in any detail on Venezuela.
Larry Birns, Director of the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, Washington-based think-tank, considers the Report to be "a political tool" used to "reward [the US's] friends, and punish [the US's enemies].” "The US uses these procedures unilaterally for their own interest," Birns affirms. At the discretion of the US, tier 3 countries may be subject to sanctions or loan rejections as well as the cancellation of aid. However, this can be waived if "the provision of such assistance…is otherwise in the national interest of the United States." Venezuela is set to apply for a $250 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, however, the US has already announced their decision to veto the request due to Venezuela’s position on Tier 3. Venezuelan Minister of Communication Andres Izarra declared recently that the government was confident they would receive the loan despite the US veto.
Cuba was determined to be a Tier 3 nation based on the fact that although "there are no reliable estimates available on the extent of trafficking in the country;…children in prostitution is widely apparent, even to casual observes."
The second half of the Report’s criticism of Venezuela focused on it’s “insufficient attention and resources to combating” human trafficking, referring to them as “inadequate” and claiming that the Venezuelan government “did not fully comply with the minimum standards,” set by the US. It goes on to state that “there were no reported arrests related to commercial sexual exploitation of minors and no trafficking cases were prosecuted during the reporting period.”
According to Venezuelan National Assembly Deputy Saul Ortega, who chaired a hearing on human trafficking in Venezuela last week, the Venezuelan government did not receive a single complaint of trafficking last year. The 2004 State Department report notes only one, while the 2005 report does not mention a single reported complaint in 2005.
The report goes on to say that "the government funded no NGO programs geared towards victims of trafficking…(and) launched no anti-trafficking public awareness campaign,” and prevention efforts were “inadequate” throughout the year. “In the absence of government action to educate the public about the dangers of trafficking,” the Report continued, “most of Venezuelan society remained uninformed about the issue."
The Venezuelan embassy's communiqué rebutted these accusations, describing the “640 community organizations through which thousands of people have been informed of the problem of human trafficking,” the surveys conducted to verify the extent to which the country suffers from human trafficking and the operations coordinated between the Metropolitan Fire Department and the National Guard to monitor the frequency with which non-Venezuelan citizens go to motels. “Also, we have increased border controls, including increased scrutiny of documentation regarding those seeking to enter and exit the country,” reads the communiqué. It then goes on to note that the government held a seminar on Human Slavery and Illegal Migration that included the “participation of most Venezuelan NGOs,” and developed the National Plan of Citizen Security, a support system that offers trafficking victims legal and psychological help.
The communiqué concluded by speculating that the Tier 3 status was “an example of either a profound lack of knowledge of what the Government of Venezuela is doing, or an intentional mischaracterization of the good faith actions taken by the Government of Venezuela," and affirmed that the “Government of Venezuela in both words and actions stands firmly against the scourge of the evil of human trafficking. It has taken concrete steps to combat this evil practice."