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U.S. poised to upgrade Cuba in annual human trafficking report – sources

U.S. poised to upgrade Cuba in annual human trafficking report -sources
WASHINGTON | BY JASON SZEP, PATRICIA ZENGERLE AND MATT SPETALNICK

The United States is set to remove Cuba from the list of worst offenders
in failing to suppress human trafficking and forced labor, U.S. sources
said, removing a longstanding irritant between the former Cold War foes
at a time of détente.

The upgrade would lift Cuba to the so-called “Tier 2 Watch List” in the
State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report from Tier 3, the
lowest rank where it has languished for 12 years due to allegations of
sex trafficking and forced labor.

The upgrade was contained in a draft report that could be modified by
the time of publication, expected this month, said a Congressional aide
with knowledge of the report. A second source confirmed the upgrade. The
sources requested anonymity.

It would come at a diplomatically sensitive time, following the July 1
re-establishment of diplomatic relations, including reopening of
embassies in each other’s capitals, after more than a half-century of
estrangement.

“Every time this report is published it has been harshly criticized by
Cuba,” Gustavo Machin, deputy director of U.S. affairs in the Cuban
Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Havana on Thursday. “It is based on
falsehoods. We think we have exemplary conduct in the care of boys and
girls, the youth, and adolescents.”

For years, the U.S. State Department has scathingly criticized Cuba’s
record in human trafficking.

Past U.S. reports have cited allegations of children coerced into
prostitution and forced labor in Cuban state-backed overseas’ work
missions through a program that sends thousands of Cuban doctors and
nurses abroad.

“If true, this upgrade in Cuba’s status in the annual report is nothing
short of appeasement,” U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a
Florida Republican who opposes stronger ties with Cuba, said in a statement.

The State Department declined to confirm the upgrade. “Given that the
report is not yet finalized, we will not comment on any specific
findings,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby. The White House
declined to comment.

“POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY”

The sources attributed the upgrade to better cooperation between
Washington and Havana on human trafficking issues and better treatment
of victims. But they declined to provide specifics before the report is
published, which usually takes place in June but has been delayed this year.

In last year’s report, the United States urged Cuba to criminalize all
forms of human trafficking, strengthen training of in protecting
victims, adopt new anti-trafficking policies and “ensure no use of
coercion in Cuban work-abroad missions”, among other steps.

More than 50,000 Cuban nurses and doctors have been sent to more than 60
countries in Cuban government-backed missions.

The jobs generally are well paid by Cuban standards, and some foreign
diplomats in Havana say forced labor allegations appear overblown. But
some Cubans have defected from their overseas missions, complaining of
difficult work conditions.

One area of concern to U.S. authorities has been the absence of laws
criminalizing prostitution for minors aged 16 to 18, a legal gray area
in Cuba where the age of consent is 16 and where prostitution is permitted.

Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee who is the son of Cuban immigrants, said he suspected any
upgrade would be politically motivated. “You have to earn your way up
the ladder, not just have political expediency be the reason that you
get moved from Tier 3,” he said in an interview.

Menendez and groups were also highly critical of the State
Department’s plans, revealed last week by Reuters, to upgrade Malaysia
from Tier 3, a move that could smooth the way for an ambitious U.S.-led
free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries.

The Malaysian upgrade has not been confirmed by the State
Department, which says it is still finalizing the ratings.

“Malaysia is a very problematic case … and should not be let off the
hook,” Mark Lagon, a former ambassador for the Office to Monitor and
Combat Trafficking in Persons that produces the report, testified in
Congress on Thursday.

The report includes four categories: Tier 1 for nations that meet
minimum U.S. standards; Tier 2 for those that are making significant
efforts to do so; Tier 2 “Watch List” for those that deserve special
scrutiny; and Tier 3 for countries that fail to fully comply with the
minimum U.S. standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Last year there were 23 countries on Tier 3, including North Korea,
Syria, Iran and Cuba. Tier 3 countries can face some sanctions. The
report was first published in 2001, though Cuba made its first
appearance in 2003.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Havana and Idrees Ali in
Washington. Editing by Martin Howell and Ken Wills)

Source: Exclusive: U.S. poised to upgrade Cuba in annual human
trafficking report -sources | Reuters –
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/16/us-cuba-usa-trafficking-exclusive-idUSKCN0PQ12X20150716

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