By Gerardo Reyes, Miami Herald, 17th January 2011
Frustrated by the Dominican Republic’s lack of commitment in the fight against trafficking of Haitian children, the United States could impose sanctions against that country, the State Department’s head of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said.
”The problem is that in Dominican Republic we haven’t seen cases against anybody,” said Luis CdeBaca.
”We tell the countries we deal with that it would be good not only to arrest the traffickers, but the officials who serve as accomplices as well. But in Dominican Republic we don’t even have the first one, and that’s where the frustration is.”
He explained that since he traveled last summer to Santo Domingo to investigate the trafficking situation and the exploitation of children, no major progress has been seen.
”We haven’t really seen a big change from the Dominican Republic,” CdeBaca said.
”If nothing happens and the problem continues … we could then advise the president as far as sanctions are concerned.”
The Dominican government could face the suspension of economic and military aid; blocking of some exports to the United States; and opposition in votes at organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, CdeBaca said.
The Dominican Republic has until June to implement the State Department’s recommendations, according to CdeBaca.
The recommendations appear in the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, in which the Dominican Republic was classified at level three, the lowest tier. Together with Cuba, they are the only countries in the Western Hemisphere that are categorized as being the “source [and] destination of men, women and children subjected to trafficking, especially in forced labor and forced prostitution,” the report says.
“You have seen [the situation],” CdeBaca said, referring to a series of stories published by The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald in October and November on the trafficking of Haitian children with the complicity of Dominican authorities.
The series showed that many of the children are forced to beg on the streets in Dominican cities or become prostitutes in Bocachica, an international tourism resort in the south of the country.
Some of the girls have sex with traffickers as a way to pay for the crossing.
Responding to CdeBaca’s statement, the office of the Dominican Republic’s president sent a statement pointing out the efforts made through interdiction and education to prevent trafficking and exploitation of children.
The statement cites two cases in which the country’s authorities arrested traffickers.
The most recent operative took place on Jan. 13, when officers of the army’s intelligence department intercepted two vehicles transporting 56 undocumented people — 41 men, 12 women and three children.
The officers detained Julio César Peña Regalado and Brito Santiago Fernando, “well-known traffickers of persons in the area,” the statement says.
“All cases that have to do with trafficking of persons have been brought to justice, none have had impunity and those persons involved have been punished under laws implemented in Dominican Republic,” the documents says.
Nongovernment organizations operating in the north border area of both countries say that the trafficking of children increased after Haiti’s devastating quake last year.
Hundreds of children have crossed the border illegally, but as of November not a single person had been indicted for trafficking of minors, Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald reporters found. The situation is known to the State Department.
“Corruption is a major part of the problem of modern slavery and trafficking,” CdeBaca said.
He said the Dominican government has not implemented a law it passed seven years ago against trafficking.
“Haiti needs laws and Dominican Republic has them but doesn’t use them,” CdeBaca said.
The State Department’s report covering the period from April 2009 to April 2010 says that “the government has not made any discernible progress in persecuting and punishing traffickers during the period analyzed.”
CdeBaca said the government needs to make progress not only in trying the traffickers and their accomplices but also in protecting the victims.
The Dominican Republic is his office’s biggest worry in the Western Hemisphere, he said.