Today, the UN Office of Drugs & Crime marked the first World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, an effort to raise awareness around the $150 billion global human trafficking industry. The event comes just days after the U.S. State Department drew criticism for its decision to remove Cuba from a list of countries that have failed to respond adequately to the issue.
The decision to upgrade Cuba’s status was included in an annual State Department report on human trafficking, a publication that has been used largely as a diplomatic tool since 2001. Coming amid a climate of improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba, however, the decision led some observers to wonder if the report had been unduly politicized.
But just how the warming in U.S.-Cuba relations affected the report is open to debate. Improved relations may have, in fact, made conducting an objective assessment of Cuba’s efforts to combat human trafficking more feasible.
“There was always a question around the extent to which Cuba’s persistently bad rating was a reflection of broader U.S. policy,” said human trafficking expert Anne Gallagher. ”Cuba’s sudden upgrade, coming as it does during a period of historic rapprochement with the U.S., appears to settle that question once and for all.”
In its rationale for the decision, the State Department says worked closely with the Cuban government and has seen significant efforts at improvement in transparency, victim protection and prosecuting traffickers. While reaction to the department’s decision has thus far been mixed, if closer ties between the two countries do indeed lead to greater cooperation on regional issues such as human trafficking—a growing problem that affects as many as 1.8 million people in the region—the consequences can only be positive.