Mark Lee

About Mark Lee

Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.

Slavery is alive and well all over the globe, if we go by the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the U.S. Department of State, June 19. And it is of particular concern to Caribbean countries where human trafficking is synonymous with cross border prostitution.

New face of slavery

New face of slavery. (US State Dept photo)

The phenomenon labeled as trafficking is causing squabbles between on the one hand Caribbean neighbours struggling with the concept of economic and trade integration as their economies founder, and on the other, forcing them together against the US approach to addressing the matter.

In the quagmire that is Caribbean economy, it is hard to discern where immoral sex tourism ends and illegal trading in people begins – or child labour for that matter.

A pre-teen selling newspapers is encouraged as entrepreneurial in the US and teens are the preferred workers in American malls, ahead of new immigrants and laid-off professionals.

The American text is supposedly perched atop a moral high ground of fighting modern day slavery. But other countries ponder a sub-text of political coercion, despite the US having added itself to its own trafficking in persons annual report since Clinton took the office of secretary of state in 2009.

“In the United States today, we are celebrating what’s called Juneteenth. That’s freedom day, the date in 1865 when a Union officer stood on a balcony in Galveston, Texas and read General Order Number 3, which declared, ‘All slaves are free.’,” Clinton told her audience as she released the report. “It was one of many moments in history when a courageous leader tipped the balance and made the world more free and more just. But the end of legal slavery in the United States and in other countries around the world has not, unfortunately, meant the end of slavery,” she stated.

“Today, it is estimated as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery, what we sometimes call trafficking in persons.”

But four days before that speech, a group of Caribbean Women parliamentarians was in Washington DC, attending a GlobalPower meeting at which they challenged Clinton’s advisor, ambassador Luis CdeBaca, on the downgrading of some Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, including Barbados, on the human trafficking scale and placing them on a Watch List.

Most Caribbean countries are at tier two on a four-tier system, as mandated by the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, which the State Department says “is based more on the extent of government action to combat trafficking than on the size of the problem”.

CdeBaca was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 to coordinate U.S. government activities in the global fight against contemporary forms of slavery.

He uses the abundance of Caribbean countries listed on private international sex travel websites where people who describe themselves as mongers, share tidbits on where and how to pick up prostitutes at their travel destinations.

“My contention is that they are confusing trafficking with smuggling,” says Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, vice-president of the Inter American Commission for Women and parliamentary secretary in the Barbados Ministry of Health.

The TVPA and the United Nations’ Palermo Protocols define trafficking in persons” as:

  • sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

“Women … come here and work in the sex industry and go home. I am not condoning the practice nor condemning. Just laying out facts,” said Sandiford-Garner.

“The discussions (on the mongering sites) do not indicate that the women working are trafficked… In fact, we have had incidences of raids being conducted and women sent straight to the airport. If you are trafficked you do not have access to your travel documents. Trafficking is when you are coerced, deceived and forced and your documentation is confiscated by the individual who ships you here.”

Irene Sandiford-Garner

Barbados senator, Irene Sandiford-Garner.

CdeBaca, a former judge, is pressuring countries to produce work plans to satisfy the State Department that the touted three Ps: prosecution, protection and prevention, are being implemented – a fight to be borne by governments with growing economic challenges that are compounded by the current precipitous global financial climate.

From a reading of the 2012 report it would seem that what is needed in source and destination countries is an economic crusade against unemployment and poverty rather than against prostitution or illegal immigration since there is a suggestion that these are causes of the flight to immoral and illegal activities such as prostitution, illicit drugs and weapons trading, and money laundering.

For the speculative conspiracy theorists, this may well represent part of the sub-text of American diplomacy. The capture, extradition and conviction of Jamaican crime boss Christopher Michael ‘Dudus’ Coke on US drugs and gun smuggling charges is a case in point. The arrest of American Allen Stanford, a dual Antigua citizen, and his subsequent conviction on a billion dollar fraud, money laundering and Ponzi scheme is another. And the arrest and conviction by the British authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands, of Jamaican David Smith for defrauding hundreds of people including Jamaicans, of millions of dollars in a foreign exchange trading business exposed as Ponzi scheme.

Neither Coke, Smith nor Stanford are or were wanted on criminal charges in the place of their domicile, where, at the time of their arrest, much of their activities were hatched and executed.

The US action, while diplomatically unwelcome may stimulate countries into action to more aggressively find economic solutions to address the myriad of social issues retarding their progress but the stick may kill the horse before it sees the carrot.

Jamaica, Haiti and theDominican Republic are the recurring decimals as sources of many of the alleged human traffic prostitutes and exploited workers. They are the most populous countries in the insular Caribbean after Cuba; real income for their population has not grown in five decades in most cases, and they don’t have the American economic prop enjoyed byPuerto Rico, which is not without its own share of prostitutes and migrants.

The real questions about the neo-slavery may well be asked in the halls of withered political authority, devastated labour movements and the increasing power and global autonomy of the corporation for which the human is a mere cog in the wheel of industry.