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Is Belize Doing Enough to Combat Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is one of those crimes that seemingly go under the radar. Furthermore, the government of Belize has been criticized by the United States of America for not placing much emphasis on human trafficking.  Human trafficking is seemingly a problem not only for Belize but Central America. Love News spoke with Senator Osmany Salas who recently played a very pivotal role in reuniting a girl who was lured away from her family by the promise of a job in Mexico.

Senator Osmany Salas, Senator

“Not only our children but a lot of young persons, young adults are highly vulnerable to this whole human smuggling issue. It is also important to clarify that there are two matters that are of relevance here, human smuggling and human trafficking those are two different things. As I learned in relation to the experience that I was involved with it was actually a case of human smuggling where we have very porous borders and in the case of this young lady, she was actually assisted to cross from our side to Mexico through an illegitimate border crossing that we know as Botes. Her crossing was facilitated by what I strongly feel is a human smuggling ring and what I have learned is that there was a person that was working on this young lady, had already recognized her vulnerabilities – working on her to convince her to cross willingly and that is how it happened. So long story short with that case because of very rapid actions from the girl’s mother and my wife and I were able to assist as well and the support of our ambassador to Mexico, Ambassador Olivar Del Sid and him connecting us with the relevant authorities in Chetumal one of the heads of the state police based in Chetumal and support from the head of immigration at our northern border with the help of a lot of people were able to- the day after the young lady had crossed the border we were able to find her and bring her back.”

In August, Minister of Human Development, Anthony Martinez and Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte travelled to Washington D. C. to participate in a Human Trafficking Seminar. Both men met with the Deputy Attorney General for the US Department of Justice, Rod Rosenstein and discussed the partnership between both countries to halt human trafficking.  Love News spoke with Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte who shared the outcome of that meeting.

Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General

“Since we came back what we did, the consultancy that has worked with Belize and the US Government made certain recommendations that we had no issue with. They wanted a special police unit to be set up to address human trafficking which we have done that has been set up and answerable directly to the assistant commissioner of police Mr. Noel Leal. We have a magistrate that deals with just human trafficking matters, we have a Supreme Court judge that will deal with just human trafficking matters, a prosecutor and a member of the Sol Gen’s Office. When people are refugees or they claim to be human trafficking people even if they don’t want to testify we have an excellent program where they are housed, they are taken care of they are fed and protected and given advice. So we are doing all that we can do and we are following 99% of the recommendations made to us by the state department and the consultation group that was assigned to us.”

Love News also spoke with Area Representative for Cayo South, Julius Espat, who said more resources should be put into protecting our border which has proven difficult to control.

Julius Espat – Area Representative for Cayo South

“Human Trafficking is very complicated because that gets into contraband too, it gets into your porous borders and gets into having enough resources to man your borders I consider them our borders I’m not talking about any artificial border. We have jungles as our borders in the large majority, in fact, a large part of it is in my constituency the Chiquibul which forms the border is in Cayo South and it’s one of the most porous areas. If you want to deal with that scenario you have to deal with the geography in which you are located. I believe that more resources should be put to protect our borders. An engineer corps in the BDF, we should have an environmental corps in the BDF where we could hire the youths and put them to the benefit of the country. We are still spending money anyway by either if they go to jail or we are paying our BDF to do… we are not getting back what we are putting in. Costa Rica is a clear example they invest, they don’t have an army but they invest in their security forces to be able to protect what is theirs which is their natural and human resources.”

The U. S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report for 2017 listed Belize as being on tier 3.  A Tier 3 rating is given to countries whose governments fall short of meeting the minimum standards as it relates to human trafficking. According to the website, in spite of the government’s raids on commercial sex establishments, few trafficking crimes were exposed due to a lack of intelligence-gathering, suspicions of law enforcement officers being involved and uneven application of human trafficking victim to identify perpetrators.