Say No to US Senators’ Characterization of Cuban Medical Missions as “Human Trafficking”
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
Caribbean governments should have seen this coming. While the Trump administration was blocking PPEs shipments to the Caribbean to build their anti-COVID-19 capacities, the Cuban government was sending medical personnel to help fight the pandemic. Cuban medical personnel have been deployed across the world during this pandemic – throughout the Caribbean, Africa, and even in Europe. Rather than being embarrassed for its lack of empathy to Caribbean countries, the Trump administration and its enablers in the Senate are trying to punish the Cuban government for its tradition of humanitarian assistance in south-south collaboration for the past several decades. Caribbean governments are now being pressured to reject Cuban medical missions or be designated as human trafficking states.
Pandering to their large numbers of Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American communities in Florida and Texas, Senators Rick Scott (R-FL), Marco Rubio (R-Fl), and Ted Cruz (R-TX), three senators with large numbers of anti-Castro and anti-Maduro constituents, have sought to falsely characterize one of the most impactful humanitarian programs of all times as human trafficking. Tens of thousands of under served and marginalized populations in the developing world are afforded access to health care through the Cuban medical missions program, access to affordable health care denied to many of the constituents of these senators in the richest country in the world – the United States of America, and, in particular, to vast numbers in their home states of Florida and Texas. Instead of focusing on the coronavirus pandemic spread in Florida, Texas, and other states in the US, they are focusing instead on punishing countries that are benefiting from Cuba’s humanitarian assistance. Instead of focusing on providing universal healthcare to their constituents, these senators are attempting to deny health care to Caribbean recipient populations, and others around the world.
What does the Bill do, and why it should be opposed? The Cut Profits to the Cuban Regime Act, introduced in the Senate on June 17, 2020, by senators Scott, Rubio, and Cruz, requires the US State Department to publish the list of countries that contract with the Cuban government under the Cuban medical mission programs, and that these contracts are to be taken into consideration by the State Department as a factor in considering each country’s ranking for the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. According to the senators, “Any country that requests medical assistance from Cuba is actively engaging in human trafficking and should be reflected in the TIP report ranking.”
Why is the TIP Report ranking important? The short answer is that: the TIP Report ranking is an important measure for whether a country has access to, or denied certain benefits under US assistance programs. A negative TIP ranking makes assistance recipient countries quite nervous.
Statements issued by the three senators clearly show that this Bill is not about human trafficking. This Bill is in furtherance of other political objectives focusing on the Cuban government and to put pressure on the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela.
This Bill, as the title clearly states, is to deny funds to the government of Cuba. By so doing, this Bill is also intended to reduce Cuban support to the Venezuelan government. The senators also link this Bill to tightening the financial sanctions against Venezuela. Stating specifically, that, “Limiting the flow of money to Cuba and implementing more sanctions is critical to freeing Venezuela and protecting the national security of the United States.” As stated, through this Bill, they are “urging the Administration to take a number of steps against the Cuban regime to continue the fight for freedom.”
In an effort to assuage the fears of countries receiving Cuban medical assistance, the senators laid out certain impossible acts they should take to avoid the implications of negative TIP listing. Accordingly, “the host countries will not be negatively affected if the host country protects Cuban medical workers,” including by “paying the doctors directly” thereby denying funds to the Cuban government. It makes little difference that the Cuban government has invested heavily in providing free education, including training of doctors, nurses, and other health care providers in order to make them available to deliver humanitarian assistance to receiving countries. These are not services provided in Florida and Texas, or anywhere else by the US government.
Another exemption to the dreaded TIP designation is that receiving countries “allow Cuban personnel to bring their family members” with them on these medical missions which on its surface might be seen as intended as a means to keep families together. However, this should be exposed as a cruel attempt in furtherance of their objective to persuade Cuban medical personnel serving on these humanitarian missions to defect. Having their families with them would make it a lot easier to entice them to do so. Yet, family separation has not been an issue of concern to these senators in their support of, or silence on Trump administration’s draconian immigration policies which take children away from their parents at the US border with Mexico, and placing children, inhumanely, in cages. Further, contemplation of new US immigration laws by the Trump administration which would drastically limit family reunification the Trump administration describes as “chain migration” have their support.
In as much as the US State Department cites the Palermo Protocol as the standard for evaluating human trafficking around the world, it is important to make specific references to the Protocol’s provisions. My understanding of the Palermo Protocol on Human Trafficking does not support the conclusion of the three senators. The meaning of human trafficking is being twisted to serve anti-Cuba and anti-Venezuela political objectives. Thus the Cuban medical missions program cannot under any circumstances be seen as a violation of the Palermo Protocol.
Under the Palermo Protocol (the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000), as a supplement to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC)), “trafficking in persons” is defined as:
“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
Furthermore, the Palermo Protocol’s main intent was to focus governments around the world on preventing trafficking in women and girls, particularly for sexual exploitation. Try as I might, I cannot find an interpretation of the Protocol to support the position taken by Scott, Rubio, and Cruz.
I am forced to conclude that either these senators have never read the Palermo Protocol, or, if by chance they have, their action have shown no understanding of its meaning and objectives. To include the Cuban medical assistance program as human trafficking is stretching the definition of TIP beyond rational limits and understanding. Such interpretation should be rejected by receiving countries without hesitation.
Caribbean governments in a show of unity, acting together as they should on issues of great importance to the region, must reject the Scott, Rubio, and Cruz legislative attempt to force changes in their relationships with the Cuban government. Their relationship with Cuba must be defended as a sovereign right. Caribbean governments must stand against any efforts by the US State Department to link a country’s participation in the Cuban medical program to receipt of US aid. Caribbean governments must stand for something, at least in defense of their interests and not be coerced in supporting US policies intended to punish Cuba, and as a way to punish Venezuela.
The prime minister of Antigua & Barbuda has taken the lead. The prime ministers of all CARICOM member states should quickly join him and speak with a unified voice. Failure to stand publicly and shout their opposition would be an irresponsible abdication of leadership, and complicity in marginalization of the their countries’ sovereignty. This is not an issue where a Caribbean leader can seek diplomatic cover and be equivocal. This is a matter of life and death for many Caribbean citizens and senators Scott, Rubio, and Cruz must be made to know this. This is a matter of national interests for Caribbean nations, and the Trump administration must be told this in no uncertain terms. No diplomatic niceties!
This is an issue on which the governments of the Caribbean can rely on their diaspora communities across the US for support.
© 2020 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post