Authorities have broken up a human trafficking ring allegedly dedicated to moving Chinese and Dominicans from Uruguay to Argentina for forced labor, reinforcing Argentina's growing reputation as a regional human trafficking hub.
Local police working with Interpol have so far arrested 17 alleged traffickers, including a member of the Argentine security forces and an Uruguayan immigration official. The majority of the suspects were are from Uruguay and Argentina, but among them were several men of Chinese origin with Argentine papers.
The arrests were made in towns around the San Martin bridge, which joins the two countries at the River Uruguay.
Police discovered a total of 16 victims, according to the most recent report of the arrests, in Uruguayan newspaper El Pais. All the victims were Chinese; 11 were men and 5 women. Two of them were minors. The rest are believed to be between 20 and 30 years old.
Police say the men were being trafficked for forced labor, and they believe the women were intended for the same purpose. However, they have not ruled out that the women could have ended up as sex workers, according to El Pais.
Over the course of the two month investigation, authorities have also tracked Dominican citizens they believe were being trafficked into Argentina.
InSight Crime Analysis
Over the last few years, Argentina has emerged as a major hub for human trafficking, and it has been identified by the US State Department as a source, destination and transit country for smugglers.
Through the last year alone, Argentine authorities have rescued over 700 people from trafficking networks, according to a report released by the country’s Ministry of Justice. Over half of them came from outside the country, and 85 were minors.
The US State Department’s 2012 Human Trafficking report, stated Argentina did not meet its minimum standards for anti-trafficking efforts, despite some progress.
As with the recent high profile case of "Marita" Veron, most of the attention on Argentina's trafficking problem has focused on sex-trafficking and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates some half a million women are trapped in sex-trafficking networks around the country. However, as this latest case highlights, trafficking for forced labor must also be confronted if Argentina is to seriously tackle these criminal networks.