Just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, Cuba is practically a next door neighbor to the United States. But America has thus far been behaving in a very un-neighborly way by refusing to help them with the significant problem of human trafficking between Cuba and the U.S., mostly of Cubans to America. I know we’ve had our differences with Cuba in the past (<cough> Bay of Pigs <cough>), but rejecting an olive branch attempt to fight slavery? Now that’s more than unfriendly.
Last week, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez stated that he wants to negotiate an agreement with the United States to address the mutual problem of Cuban citizens being both smuggled and trafficked into the U.S. While the issues of smuggling and trafficking Cubans into America are distinct, they overlap greatly.
Some Cubans choose to migrate from Cuba to the U.S. without proper documentation, and pay a smuggler to bring them into the U.S. illegally. A smuggler’s relationship with the people he crosses borders with ends after they are in a new country. While migrants often suffer terrible conditions and may even die during smuggling, it is different issue from human trafficking. A trafficker continues to exploit the labor of the person or people he brings across a border, whether its in prostitution, domestic servitude, agriculture, or any other industry.
Sometimes, people voluntarily choose to be smuggled. But once their freedom and ability to leave their situation is taken, they become trafficked — a modern-day slave. And no one chooses to be a slave.
Cuba and the U.S. have a significant problem with both cross-border smuggling and trafficking. Take the case of Luis Perez, who was arrested in 2007 for human trafficking and smuggling. Perez would smuggle boatloads of Cubans into Florida, sometimes in dangerous and inhumane conditions. Upon arrival, some of the people would be released, but others would be trafficked in the U.S. Perez was actually caught by police because his dangerous operation resulted in the death of one of his passengers while being smuggled to the U.S. It’s a classic case of the intersection and overlap between trafficking and smuggling.
You would think that the U.S., which has made repeated statements about how human trafficking is a priority and how foreign nationals should never been enslaved and exploited in the U.S., would make more of an effort to assist neighboring Cuba. But the U.S. has yet to respond to Cuba’s request.
Photo credit: Sami