Latin America: Human Trafficking Notes

Posted on October 13, 2012 • Filed under: Crime, Human Smuggling, Latin America News

Human Trafficking Conference Briefing Notes Prepared August, 2012

Numbers in abstract indicate that the particular information was obtained from open sources online.

Six major countries: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Spain and the United States
Incidents occur outside these main transit areas in smaller pockets
Some countries serve mainly as transit countries
Trafficking goes from poor locations to rich locations
Trafficking discovered in both urban and rural areas
Trafficking can be external (from outside Latin America) or internal (between or within Latin American countries)
Officials continue to combat crime
Victims sometimes report crimes themselves
Traffickers have used boats and vehicles to smuggle victims
Locations of crimes are various: hotels, sheds, bars, saunas, hospitals
Important to make distinction between those who volunteer to be smuggled and those who are taken without permission
Few open source reports concerning traffickers; most reports concern victims

Human trafficking occurs throughout Latin America, but six countries seem prominent: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Spain and the United States. Traffickers use a variety of means to capture and coerce their victims: publications in the media, social networks, employment agencies, advertisements, or by kidnapping and abduction. Human trafficking is used to serve many criminal purposes: labor exploitation, sexual exploitation, trafficking in organs, child pornography, and slavery. The primary victims are women and children, mostly female (1).

In Argentina, Bolivian children have been trafficked to work in harsh conditions. Two girls were found in mid-July, 2012 subjected to abuse and violence. They were forced to work in bondange without proper rest or nutrition, and had been promised study aid. One girl was found in the Buenos Aires area. One might infer metropolitan areas encounter high rates of human smuggling incidents due to multiple modes and routes of transportation into these areas. Additionally, there may be a heightened chance of anonymity among a large population; or in other words, it is less likely others would be concerned with or pick up on suspicious activity. The other Bolivian victim was found in similar conditions in the Patagonia, a harsh and thinly populated region in Argentina. Perhaps rural regions are also likely to see high rates of human trafficking, as suspicious activity would be unlikely to be detected. This victim reported the crimes herself, suggesting victims are aware of the crime and are willing to contact authorities. It may be worthwhile to track this trend of self-reporting to see if it is recurrent, or if it can be encouraged (2).

Pockets of human smuggling have been found outside the six main countries mentioned above. For example, Paraguay is known to be an exportation country due to high levels of poverty. The city of Alto Parana in particular sees high levels of trafficking. Only 100 women in four years were recovered after being trafficked, which authorities claim is a small fraction of the total. Solid statistical analysis is not available, as experts say collecting data is impossible in Paraguay. These 100 women were recovered only because they were discovered in other countries or because they contacted Paraguayan authorities directly. This is another case in which victims have reported the crime in an effort to escape. This does appear to be a trend; perhaps officials could work to create and improve mechanisms to report such a crime without fear of consequence, as it does seem beneficial for some victims (3).

Other isolated incidents occur outside the six prominent countries. For example, in El Alto, Bolivia, girls were discovered in a shed that had only been fed bread and water during captivity. In Cochabamba, the same country, victims in a human trafficking scheme had been found beaten and tortured with electric shocks. Clearly, human trafficking can occur along established routes in countries known for the crime, yet it can also occur in isolated areas. Perhaps the victims in these cases had originally been trafficked along main routes before being further distributed. On the other hand, it is possible there are more localized trafficking schemes that should be investigated further (1).

A similarly curious case is that of a prostitution ring in Ecuador. Two girls, one a minor, were caught while travelling to work in a nightclub in Ibarra. The woman responsible for recruiting them was arrested at the bus station, where she intended to pick up the girls. All three were Colombian, and the woman was responsible for recruiting girls from Colombia to work in Ecuador. Because this woman seemed directly involved in working with the girls that were caught, as well as organizing other aspects of the operation, like recruitment, this case appears to be a small-scale scheme. If the victims had switched hands and been traded more often, perhaps it would indicate large-scale trafficking. In this case, it appears this organization is more localized, despite the fact it crosses international borders. Perhaps it crosses borders because of the poor-to-rich pattern that appears in many trafficking cases (10).

However, Argentina, one of the six main countries, remains a major concern in open source reports of human trafficking. Buenos Aires is known for its multitude of brothels. At least 6,000 women work as prostitutes, concealing their work in locations such as bars, saunas, and luxury clubs. Officials have reported that victims in Buenos Aires often come from neighboring countries or poorer provinces, which is similar to the report concerning Paraguay (3). This appears to be a trend: trafficking from poorer areas to richer ones, probably because there is a demand for humans in richer areas, and a demand for jobs in poorer locations. It might be beneficial to investigate not only the countries in which victims and trafficking incidents are reported, but also countries and areas displaying risk features, such as poverty. Also, high numbers of victims from the Dominican Republic have appeared in Buenos Aires, perhaps another pattern to watch (4).

Some countries are beginning to emerge as countries not known for the exportation or importation of illegal persons, but rather as countries used for transit. This is the case in Panama. Panama has seen an influx of trafficked persons, especially from Africa. The victims are transported to the Caribbean via the Atlantic Ocean, and frequently pay large amounts of money to be taken to a new country. Security officials claim that using techniques employed in drug trafficking operations has led to increased detection of human trafficking incidents. In 2011, the following victims were found in Panama: 39 from Bangladesh, 72 from Eritrea, 69 from Somalia, 57 from Colombia, 10 from Nepal, eight from Ethiopia, seven from India, two from Ghana, two from Sierra Leone, two from New Guinea, and one from Cameroon. The article reporting this information does not indicate the final destination(s) of these trafficked individuals. It is interesting to note that the other victims described in this report are generally of Latin American origin. Perhaps a further examination of trafficking in this region would indicate to which locations these external victims are being trafficked, as well as whether external victims are being introduced into Latin America in other locations (6).

One other incident that implies external individuals are being trafficked into Latin America took place in Argentina. Ten Chinese individuals were found in two cars near Salta. They had entered the country through a clandestine route near Bolivia, and are believed to have been heading to Santa Fe. Four Argentineans from Salta were arrested in the operation. This shows that not only do external victims arrive on boats, but they also enter countries by vehicles. The report does not state how the Chinese victims entered Bolivia. It could be possible they were brought by air; further investigations are needed–not only in this case, but in other cases concerning trafficking from the outside. This would help determine worldwide human trafficking routes, in addition to providing essential information to security officials who may be able to sever such routes (7).

Concerning the locations of human trafficking, as stated above, many discoveries are made in bars, saunas, and clubs, especially in Buenos Aires (4). Other victims are found in harsh conditions, such as sheds (1). In another case, a human trafficking ring was discovered operating out of a hotel in Apizaco, Mexico. Six prostitutes, two managers, and an eyewitness were all arrested during the bust for crimes of human trafficking. The hotel was in poor sanitary condition, suggesting the main function of the hotel was to serve as a brothel, though the article reporting this information does not claim this. Hotels are known to see prostitution activity, thus making it surprising that in Buenos Aires, which is known for its prostitution, more established locations such as saunas and bars are being used for trafficking. Perhaps traffickers there have evolved from using the traditional hotel in order to evade detection. One might conduct further analysis to see if this pattern is occurring in Mexico; whether the case in Apizaco was easily detected because officials routinely observe hotel behavior, or whether it was a rare occurrence because traffickers have moved to more covert methods, as in Argentina (8).

Mexico, though it was not mentioned among the six major countries, does struggle with human trafficking. Between three and four children disappear every hour in the country, mostly infants and girls. This statistic includes children that have voluntarily left their homes, abductions, kidnappings, and those taken during robberies. However, the majority of disappeared children in Mexico involve children and infants that are taken from hospitals. In one reported case, a trafficker entered a maternity ward dressed as a nurse and took an infant. Teenage girls are also at risk for abduction. In another case, a 14-year-old was taken as she stood at a bus stop. In many cases throughout Latin America and abroad, victims often pay money or ask to be taken to a better country or location for various reasons, such as work. However, these reports about Mexico indicate that sometimes victims do not wish to be trafficked and do not volunteer themselves. This is an important distinction when analyzing human trafficking trends. It is difficult to determine where these children end up; whether they are victims of established human trafficking routes or smaller pockets occurring more locally (9).

Despite the fact crimes of human trafficking do not seem to be diminishing, countries have indeed worked to curb the activity. For example, the National Migration Institute in Mexico has begun to crack down on travellers. After an infant was found travelling in a truck bearing obvious signs of being trafficked, the institute now requires that all children carry proper documentation. If children are found travelling without documentation, their companion or companions must also be held until documentation can be produced, and must also prove their relationship to the child or children. Most documentation checks occur in bus stops and airports. While it is true this procedure can be usurped with fake documents, this movement toward minimizing human trafficking shows countries are concerned with the crime. It would be worthwhile to follow up with the institute to see whether this enforcement has altered any human trafficking statistics in Mexico, or increased arrests related to the crime (5).

Also in Mexico, the state government of Chiapas has adopted new measures to discourage human exploitation and reward businesses that do not permit it. The government has awarded 16 certificates to nightclubs and bars in which no form of human trafficking is present, including prostitution. All locations were carefully inspected. Perhaps if the government would widen this program, or extend it to other parts of the country, similar businesses would be encouraged to crack down on human trafficking crimes taking place in their vicinities. Not having a certificate could lead to a bad image, a poor reputation, and a loss of business. Thus, it would be in their best interest to forbid and outlaw trafficking crimes. As bars and night-time entertainment venues attract prostitutes, an enforcement like this could have a significant impact on the human trafficking trade (11).

While governments do attempt to eliminate human trafficking, not too many open source reports discuss the capture of traffickers themselves; most reports concern victims or overviews of trends in the crime. This suggests many traffickers are at large. Some, however, have been seized, as with the case of a trafficker in El Salvador, although the details concerning his crimes were not clear (12). This may show a lack of government ability to curb human trafficking at the root, or a lack of attention to the crime itself. Prolonged research into human traffickers may yield further information.

Prepared by Allison P. Maykuth, student at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, Security and Intelligence major

This report was conducted as a three day assignment using open source intelligence methods as part of an internship at
The problem: Customer requires a current description of human trafficking patterns in Latin America in preparation for a conference concerning human trafficking in Latin America.

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