By Beatrice E. Rangel
In 1948 upon the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights the world sighed in relief.
Slavery had finally been vanquished, as from then on slavery would be illicit.
But to the amazement of many sceptics, slavery retrenched everywhere in the world thereby making a reality George Washington's vision when he indicated that rooting out slavery was fundamental for democracy and freedom.
But the celebration could not last.
Soon after several strains of the disease began to sprout all over the world: sex trafficking, forced labor and migrant smuggling.
These illicit activities are part and parcel of the business model sustaining transnational organized crime.
The numbers truly are staggering. An estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these, 16 million (64%) were exploited for labor, 4.8 million (19%) are sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) are exploited in state-imposed forced labor.
These activities produce $150 billion in tax free income to traffickers. Annually. Sex trafficking represents the lion's share with $99 billion, followed by $34 billion accruing from forced labor in construction. Forced labor in agriculture and homes produces $17 billion.
The practice is nested in developing countries that are ruled by non-democratic regimes, with weak institutional frameworks, severe inequality and high levels of poverty.
And contrary to what many think, human trafficking is a very profitable endeavor. "OSCE studies show that sexual exploitation can yield a return on investment ranging from 100% to 1,000%, while an enslaved laborer can produce more than 50% profit even in less profitable markets (e.g., agricultural labor in India)," according to the NGO Human Rights First.
There however is yet another human trafficking activity that fails to meet the specifications of slavery: immigrant smuggling. People fleeing violence and poverty are regularly exploited by "handlers" linked to transnational organized crime who frequently also are employment providers for these migrants who find themselves chained to a low paying job for several years until they pay back " transportation" fees to the handler at exploitative rates of interest.
Immigrant smuggling produces an annual income of about $30 billion. These economic returns are one of the pillars on which transnational organized crime builds other criminal activities such as terrorism finance and drug trafficking. The second pillar being technology.
The cost of human trafficking is huge as it curtails individual choice and economic gain which are the driving forces of development. It creates a counterintelligence network to outsmart law enforcement as victims are forced to conduct espionage activities for the higher commands of organized crime. It spreads diseases as migrants and sex workers are not provided with access to health care. In the end only organized crime gains with human trafficking.
In the western hemisphere two organizations seem to lead this form of modern slavery.
On the one hand the handlers of migrants from everywhere in the Americas into the U.S. These organizations known as "sindicatos de polleros" are linked to the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.
Prostitution is carried out by many small organizations thereby being more fragmented.
Migrant smuggling is led by a coalition of terrorist organizations with organized crime.
Enslaved labor is basically led by the Cuban regime through the sale of health care, sports and ballet coaching professionals. This latter activity has recently been placed under scrutiny and fire by the world press and democratic regimes such as Brazil.
And while Cuban medical doctors have been liberated from their servitude, no serious and organized plan to fight this scourge has been created by nations in the Western Hemisphere.
The time is thus ripe to begin setting the pillars for the deployment of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
These pillars would revolve around the creation of an effective system of collection, analysis and exchange of information about the illegal activity of transnational criminal rings.
And, obviously, the creation of an appropriate international coordination center with secure technical equipment with capacity to direct law enforcement agencies to the very spots where criminal rings concentrate assets and resources, establish stash houses and place victims. Identification of money deposits would also be very useful in so far as the trade cannot be deployed without cash.
Unfortunately, for the health of our societies, most authorities in our hemisphere believe that all it takes to successfully face this scourge is more weapons.Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.
For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.
You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.