An annual report on the global state of human trafficking suggests that the majority of Latin American countries still do not fully comply with US standards for combatting the crime.
The latest annual Trafficking in Persons Report from the US State Department, released on June 27, found that the majority of countries in Latin America still do not comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), a law the United States introduced in 2000 to combat human trafficking.
Overall, Latin America continues to be a region filled with "source, transit and destination" countries for human trafficking, sex trafficking and forced labor, the report states.
Just five countries in the region -- Puerto Rico, Guyana, the Bahamas, Colombia and Chile -- fully complied with the TVPA's standards, the report found. More than half of the region (16 countries) fell into Tier 2, which denotes that they do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards, but are making "significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance."
Seven countries in the region were placed on the Tier 2 Watch List, which is reserved for nations that showed increases in the number of human trafficking victims, and that also failed to provide evidence of efforts to combat human trafficking, among other things.
For the third year in a row, Belize and Venezuela continued to be ranked in Tier 3, the designation for countries that have not met the minimum standards of the TVPA and are not making significant efforts to do so, according to the report.
In Central America's Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) the report found that the countries' gangs often subject children to forced labor by pressuring them to sell and transport drugs. Migrants traveling through the region are also susceptible to forced labor and other human trafficking-linked activities, according to the report.
Women, children, indigenous people, migrants and LGBTI individuals continue to be the groups most adversely affected by human trafficking in the region, the report found.
InSight Crime Analysis
Criminal organizations in Latin America have long exploited the region's most vulnerable populations to generate income and further their illicit activities. And since 2015, Latin American countries' tier rankings have stayed more or less consistent save for a few slight improvements and declines.
Belize and Venezuela, for example, continue to be Latin America's worst countries for human trafficking. For the last three years, the US State Department has found that the two countries have maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement, victim protection and prevention efforts.
Since as far back as 2004, the United States has blacklisted Venezuela as a country with a poor record of combatting human trafficking. As the country slides further into economic and political crisis, it is unlikely that this designation will change. The ongoing economic crisis has reportedly pushed a growing number of the country's citizens to partake in illicit activities, including human smuggling.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Trafficking
Some countries' rankings have changed for the worse. Guatemala and Nicaragua, for instance, were determined to have failed to improve efforts to combat human trafficking, both falling from the Tier 2 list in 2016 to the Tier 2 Watch List in 2017. Nicaraguans were reported as among the "primary nationalities of victims identified in Guatemala," the report found. Organized crime groups in Guatemala are known to operate sex trafficking rings with varying levels of sophistication, having moved into the illicit industry in order to diversify their revenue streams.
However, some countries in the region did improve their standing despite still failing to meet the TVPA's minimum standards.
Costa Rica was upgraded from being on the Tier 2 Watch List in 2016 to the Tier 2 list in 2017, in large part due to an increased effort by authorities to combat human trafficking. While Costa Rica has long had a reputation as being a hub for sex trafficking and sex tourism, authorities were able to bust a group of alleged traffickers that were responsible for the forced prostitution of more than a dozen women in a September 2016 operation, a positive sign for a country still battling one of the world's largest illicit industries.
Haiti also improved its standing since 2016, moving off of the Tier 3 list and onto the Tier 2 Watch List in 2017 despite continuing to battle organized crime groups, made worse by widespread poverty and the extreme weakness of state institutions. The report found that the Caribbean nation had increased prevention and anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, successfully securing three trafficking convictions.
But Haiti's future remains uncertain. In April of this year, the United Nations voted to end a stabilizing mission in the country, raising questions about the short- and long-term security situation. The void left behind by the peacekeepers may provide an opportunity for organized crime groups to continue partaking in illicit activities, including human smuggling.