International networks involved in trafficking Venezuelans have expanded to at least 19 countries, taking advantage of the humanitarian crisis that is plaguing the country under the Nicolás Maduro regime.
This is one of the main revelations in the U.S. Department of State’s latest report on human trafficking. The document, released in the first week of July, indicates that in 2020 authorities found cases of Venezuelan migrant trafficking and exploitation in Aruba, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Spain, Guyana, Haiti, Iceland, Macao, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
An example is the story of Katherin, who, according to the report, paid $1,500 to leave Venezuela for Guyana. She had received a job offer as a bilingual employee at a store in the capital, Georgetown. When she arrived, the reality was different: She was forced to stay in the same house as her boss, and not in the free rental apartment that was promised her. After three months she had only saved $23.
According to Sara Fernández, a researcher at the Venezuelan human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Center for Justice and Peace (Cepaz, in Spanish), the humanitarian crisis engulfing Venezuela since 2016 makes potential migrants “easy preys” for organized human trafficking and exploitation networks.
“They tell them that if they leave, they can rebuild their lives […]. The lack of IDs means that when they arrive at the country of destination, they cannot move around, and it is difficult for them to report [the situation],” the NGO representative said.
In general, authorities do not officially report on cases detected in Venezuela, but word gets out informally, through social networks. However, on July 30, the prosecutor appointed by the former National Constituent Assembly, Tarek William Saab, revealed that his office had registered a total of 696 trafficking victims among Venezuelan migrants from 2017 to 2021.
According to the Cepaz spokesperson, due to progressive international isolation, Venezuela does not actively take part in coordination mechanisms for the fight against the networks that facilitate the transfer and exploitation of Venezuelans abroad.
These groups operate with relative impunity. According to Carolyn Gomes, executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, these organizations have smuggled 21,000 Venezuelans to Trinidad and Tobago since 2017.
In June, during a presentation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the expert warned that international networks for human trafficking from Venezuela to the Caribbean archipelago “have worsened.”
“These cases are often linked to sexual exploitation: They force people to have sex, or otherwise they will deport them […],” she said.
The situation does not seem to have an immediate solution. According to Luis Cedeño, head of the Venezuelan Organized Crime Observatory, to the extent that the crisis in Venezuela deepens, the diaspora will increase and will continue to drive people to leave the country in highly vulnerable conditions. The U.S. Department of State report says that 5.6 million people have left Venezuela so far.
“This is directly linked to the complex humanitarian crisis,” Cedeño said.