A Panama court has convicted and sentenced three members of a Nicaraguan-led human trafficking network focused on exploiting people for manual labor, a promising sign for a region still struggling to combat the illicit industry.
The three Nicaraguans were each sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Panama court July 13, for leading a human trafficking network in the country that exploited the labor of 11 fellow Nicaraguans, El Nuevo Diario reported.
One of the group's members, Rosa María Ortega Rivera, was allegedly in charge of purchasing roundtrip plane tickets for the workers and providing them with $500, the minimum amount tourists need to enter Panama, according to El Nuevo Diario.
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Out of economic necessity, the group of workers allegedly came to Panama from Nicaragua after being promised construction work and a monthly salary of $600. But after arriving in October 2013, the group was instead forced to work long hours without pay, and to sleep in a cold, dirty warehouse with little access to food, according to El Nuevo Diario.
The conviction comes four years after some of the workers filed an initial complaint with Panamanian authorities in 2013.
InSight Crime Analysis
The conviction is a promising sign. In the last two years, authorities in Panama have dismantled 14 human trafficking organizations, bringing 24 traffickers and 8 leaders before authorities, according to statistics from Panama's National Commission Against Human Trafficking (Comisión Nacional Contra la Trata de Personas en Panamá).
Still, as a region, Latin America is struggling to combat human trafficking and labor exploitation. Just four countries in the region -- Guyana, the Bahamas, Colombia and Chile -- fully comply with US standards outlined in the US State Department's 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Trafficking
The recently dismantled network was also a sign that human trafficking trends in the region may be shifting. Human trafficking victims have typically migrated north into Europe and the United States. But south to south trafficking is increasing. In another recent example in 2016, children in Bolivia were reportedly being trafficked south into Argentina to be exploited in factories and workshops.