Cuba (Tier 3)
The Government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Cuba remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including investigating, prosecuting, and convicting traffickers, and identifying victims. However, during the reporting period, there was a government policy or pattern to profit from labor export programs with strong indications of forced labor, particularly its foreign medical missions’ program. The government continued to deploy Cuban workers to foreign countries using deceptive and coercive tactics and failed to address labor violations and trafficking crimes despite an increasing number of allegations from credible NGOs, former participants, and foreign governments of Cuban officials’ involvement in abuses. The government failed to inform participants of the terms of their contracts, which varied from country to country; confiscated their passports, professional credentials, and salaries; and threatened medical professionals and their family members if participants left the program. In addition, Cuban law did not explicitly prohibit labor trafficking as defined in international law, and the government did not report having procedures to identify victims of forced labor.
PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS: Ensure government-sponsored labor export programs comply with international labor standards or end them – specifically ensure participants receive fair wages that are fully paid into bank accounts the workers can control; retain passports, contracts, and academic credentials in their possession; ensure a work environment safe from violence, harassment, and intrusive surveillance; and have freedom of movement to include leaving the program or refusing an assignment without penalties, such as being threatened, imprisoned, harmed, or banned from returning to Cuba. * Vigorously investigate and prosecute sex trafficking and forced labor crimes and convict offenders. * Implement formal policies and procedures to identify trafficking victims proactively, including among vulnerable populations, refer those identified to appropriate services, and train officials, including first responders, in their use. * Draft and enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that criminalizes all forms of trafficking, including the explicit prohibition of labor trafficking, and ensures that the use of force, fraud, or coercion is considered an essential element of adult trafficking. * Adopt policies and programs that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male, female, and LGBTQI+ trafficking victims. * Screen individuals charged or detained for commercial sex-related crimes for trafficking indicators and refer identified victims to care. * Allow an independent international commission to monitor the government-sponsored labor export program. * Train those responsible for enforcing the labor code to screen for trafficking indicators and educate all Cuban workers about trafficking indicators and how to report trafficking-related violations. * Establish a permanent inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee. * Create a new national anti-trafficking action plan in partnership with international organizations. * Provide specialized training on trafficking indicators for hotline staff and interpretation for non-Spanish speakers.
The government did not report making law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons. Authorities in the Ministry of Justice continued to be complicit in state labor export schemes by prosecuting people who abandoned the government-sponsored labor export programs due to abuses and exploitative practices that could amount to human trafficking. The Cuban penal code criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Article 302 (“procuring and trafficking in persons”) criminalized inducing another person to engage in prostitution or cooperating, promoting, or benefiting from such an act and prescribed penalties of four to 10 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors, rather than essential elements of the crime. Article 310 (“corruption of minors”) criminalized the use of a person younger than the age of 16 for sexual purposes and prescribed penalties of seven to 15 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 312 (“corruption of minors”) criminalized the use of a person younger than the age of 16 for begging and prescribed penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment or a fine; these penalties were sufficiently stringent. Article 316 (“sale and trafficking of minors”) criminalized the sale or illegal adoption of a person younger than the age of 16 for “international trafficking relating to corrupting or pornographic conduct, the practice of prostitution, trade in organs, forced labor, or activities linked to narcotics trafficking or illicit drug use,” and prescribed penalties of seven to 15 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, these provisions defined a minor as younger than the age of 16 instead of 18. Provisions relating to adult and child trafficking did not explicitly criminalize the acts of recruitment, transport, and receipt of persons for these purposes. Cuban law did not explicitly prohibit labor trafficking as defined in international law. The government did not make efforts to amend the criminal code to address trafficking in line with international law.
In December 2021, the government published official data for calendar year 2020 on prosecutions and convictions, the most recent data available. The government’s annual report was the primary source of information on its efforts. The government suppressed independent domestic sources, and some independent sources provided information on trafficking efforts and trends. Authorities did not indicate how many trafficking cases they investigated, prosecuted, or convicted in 2021. The government did not report investigating cases in 2020 and prosecuted 17 suspects for possible trafficking crimes (16 for sex trafficking and one for forced labor), compared with 15 prosecutions in 2019, 20 in 2017, and 21 in 2016. Officials reported convicting 18 potential traffickers (17 for sex trafficking and one for forced labor), compared with 24 in 2019; however, because Cuba’s law was broad, it was unclear if the cases reported constituted trafficking as defined in international law. Sentences ranged from five to 17 years’ imprisonment.
The government organized and sponsored training for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges on investigating and prosecuting sex trafficking crimes, as well as analytical techniques for addressing complex cases. The government cooperated with INTERPOL and the Government of Ecuador to investigate a transnational trafficking case involving 10 alleged Cuban traffickers. Officials did not report if authorities prosecuted or convicted these individuals during the reporting period. Authorities had 20 bilateral cooperation agreements or memoranda of understanding that included trafficking; however, the government did not report tangible results associated with these agreements. Authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking, despite persistent allegations that officials threatened and coerced some participants to remain in the government-sponsored labor export program.
The government decreased efforts to identify or protect trafficking victims and continued to coerce individuals – using deceptive and exploitive tactics – to participate and remain in government-sponsored labor export programs. Authorities identified 18 victims (17 for sex trafficking and one for forced labor) in 2020, compared with 25 in 2019. In previous years, the government reported having procedures to proactively identify and refer sex trafficking victims to care; however, the government lacked formal procedures to identify victims in police raids and relied on victims to self-identify. The government did not report having procedures to identify victims of forced labor, and no information was available about the number of labor inspectors. NGOs organized by the government or Communist Party of Cuba, such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the Prevention and Social Assistance Commission, and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), could identify and refer trafficking victims to state authorities and provide some victim services, including psychological treatment, health care, skills training, and assistance in finding employment; however, these services were often politicized and unavailable to people the government and/or Communist Party deemed subversive. In 2020, the government provided general support to 16 victims, which included medical and psychological care, school reintegration assistance, and some financial support. Neither the government nor the government-organized NGOs operated shelters or provided services specifically for adult male or LGBTQI+ victims. Police encouraged child sex trafficking victims younger than the age of 16 to assist in prosecutions of traffickers by gathering testimony through psychologist-led videotaped interviewing, usually removing the need for children to appear in court. The government did not report using these tools during the reporting period. Observers reported law enforcement did not proactively screen for indicators of trafficking as police may have detained individuals in commercial sex or charged them with crimes such as “social dangerousness,” thereby potentially penalizing some victims for unlawful acts traffickers coerced them to commit. The government did not report identifying any foreign trafficking victims in Cuba in 2020.
The government made some efforts to prevent sex trafficking, particularly child sex tourism, but did not make any efforts to prevent forced labor. The government continued to use the expired 2017-2020 national anti-trafficking action plan, which included some efforts to prevent trafficking, protect victims, investigate and prosecute traffickers, and promote international cooperation. Authorities did not make any efforts to revise or approve a new national action plan. The government published its annual report of anti-trafficking efforts in December 2021, covering 2020. Officials held training sessions for government employees, students, and tourist industry employees on the prevention and detection of trafficking crimes. The government and the FMC continued to operate a 24-hour telephone line for individuals needing legal assistance, including sex trafficking victims; none of the 129,020 calls to this hotline were in reference to trafficking in persons.
State media continued to produce newspaper articles and television and radio programs, including public service announcements, to raise public awareness about sex trafficking. The FMC raised public awareness through workshops and training with government officials, social workers, educators, and students, as well as the distribution of materials explaining trafficking and its risks; however, there were no publicly available materials that showed the effectiveness or impact of these programs. Authorities maintained an office within the Ministry of Tourism charged with monitoring Cuba’s image as a tourism destination, combating sex tourism, and addressing the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not report efforts to reduce its nationals’ participation in child sex tourism but reported coordinating with a foreign government to prevent the entry of convicted sex offenders into the country.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MOL) trained organizations working with disabled individuals on the identification of cases of human trafficking cases. In addition, the MOL conducted 4,246 labor inspections but did not identify any cases of forced labor. Authorities reported taking steps to identify and prevent young people who might be vulnerable to traffickers from traveling abroad, and in 2020, they prevented four individuals from traveling after officials identified concerns with the employment contracts. Authorities may have used these authorities to target those who might want to leave the country. The government did not implement policies to prohibit force, fraud, or coercion by foreign labor recruiters and state-owned or controlled enterprises in recruiting and retaining employees, despite persistent allegations Cuban officials threatened and coerced some participants to remain in government-sponsored labor export programs. The government did not explain international labor standards to members of its labor export schemes working in conditions that might be considered trafficking.
TRAFFICKING PROFILE: As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Cuba, and traffickers exploit victims from Cuba abroad. Human trafficking concerns in Cuba fall under two broad categories: sex trafficking and forced labor, and government-sponsored labor export programs. Sex trafficking and sex tourism, including of child victims, occur within Cuba. Traffickers exploit Cuban citizens in sex trafficking and forced labor in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Latin America, and the United States. Traffickers exploit foreign nationals from Africa and Asia in sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba to pay off travel debts. The government identified children, young women, elderly, and disabled persons as the most vulnerable to trafficking. Experts raised concerns about Cuba’s LGBTQI+ population and its vulnerability to sex trafficking and the increasing vulnerability of Cuban economic migrants, including cases of professional baseball players, to labor and sex trafficking. The government uses some high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and does not pay them for their work but claims this work is voluntary.
International observers and former participants reported government officials force or coerce individuals to participate and remain in the Cuban government’s labor export programs, particularly the foreign medical missions program, managed by the Unidad Central de Cooperación Médica (UCCM), the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment. The government has not addressed its exploitative, deceptive, and coercive policies in these missions, which are clear indicators of human trafficking. According to a government report, by the end of 2020, there were 56 brigades of the “Henry Reeve” contingent in 40 countries with 4,941 medical workers, included in the 30,407 workers in 66 countries. The labor export program employed or currently employs professionals in Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Kuwait, Lesotho, Liberia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Qatar, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Suriname, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Arab of Emirates, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Some overseas departments or territories, such as the British Virgin Islands, French Guiana, Grenada, Montserrat, Martinique, and Turks and Caicos, may have Cuban workers who may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Authorities employ workers through contracts with foreign governments and, in some countries, with international organizations serving as intermediaries or providing funds for their work. According to the government, 75 percent of its exported workforce are medical professionals. Experts estimated the Cuban government collected $6 billion to $8 billion annually from its export of services, namely the foreign medical missions program. The government has stated the postings are voluntary, and some participants have also stated the postings are voluntary and better-paid compared to low-paying jobs within Cuba, where basic wages for a doctor are $55 a month. In almost all accounts, workers receive only a portion of their salary ranging from 5 to 25 percent, and these funds are retained in Cuban bank accounts – often in Cuban pesos rather than the hard currency the government is paid for their services, which are relinquished if the participant leaves the program.
In 2021, and with the support of an international NGO, 1,111 alleged victims of trafficking filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court and the UN, claiming the Cuban government was responsible for exploiting them and forcing them to work in Cuba’s labor export programs. The complaint stated that 75 percent of participants reported not volunteering for the missions, 33 percent never saw a contract, 69 percent did not know their final destination, 38 percent had their passport taken away by Cuban officials once they arrived at their destination, 76 percent had “minders,” 76 percent could not freely befriend locals, 79 percent had restrictions of movement, 91 percent were told they could not return to Cuba if they defected, 75 percent suffered threats or witnessed coworkers be threatened, and 40 percent were separated from minor children as punishment for defecting. The Cuban government acknowledges that it withholds passports of overseas medical personnel in Venezuela; the government provided identification cards to such personnel. Many Cuban medical personnel claim they work long hours without rest and face substandard and dangerous working and living conditions in some countries, including a lack of hygienic conditions and privacy, and are forced to falsify medical records. Many medical professionals reported being sexually abused by their supervisors. While the medical missions remain the most prevalent, the government profited from other similarly coercive labor export programs, including teachers, artists, athletes, sports coaches, engineers, forestry technicians, and nearly 7,000 merchant mariners across the world.