As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Cuba, and traffickers exploit victims from Cuba abroad. Human trafficking concerns in Cuba fall under two broad categories: sex trafficking and forced labor, and government-sponsored labor export programs. Sex trafficking and sex tourism, including of child victims, occur within Cuba. Traffickers exploit Cuban citizens in sex trafficking and forced labor in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Latin America, and the United States. Traffickers exploit foreign nationals from Africa and Asia in sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba to pay off travel debts. The government identified children, young women, elderly, and disabled persons as the most vulnerable to trafficking. Experts raised concerns about Cuba’s LGBTQI+ population and its vulnerability to sex trafficking and the increasing vulnerability of Cuban economic migrants, including cases of professional baseball players, to labor and sex trafficking. The government uses some high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and does not pay them for their work but claims this work is voluntary.
International observers and former participants reported government officials force or coerce individuals to participate and remain in the Cuban government’s labor export programs, particularly the foreign medical missions program, managed by the Unidad Central de Cooperacion Medica (UCCM), the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment. The government has not addressed its exploitative and coercive policies in these missions, which are clear indicators of human trafficking. According to statements from government officials, the government employed between 34,000-50,000 health care professionals in more than 60 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East in foreign medical missions through contracts with foreign governments and, in some countries, with international organizations serving as intermediaries or providing funds for their work. According to the government, 75 percent of its exported workforce are medical professionals. Experts estimated the Cuban government collected $6 billion to $8 billion annually from its export of services, namely the foreign medical missions program. The government has stated the postings are voluntary, and some participants also have stated the postings are voluntary and better paid compared to low paying jobs within Cuba, where basic wages for a doctor are $55 a month. However, observers report the government does not inform participants of the terms of their contracts or allow them to retain a copy of their contracts, heightening their risk of forced labor. Workers receive only a portion of their salary ranging from five to 25 percent, and these funds are retained in Cuban bank accounts – often in Cuban pesos rather than the hard currency the government is paid for their services, which are relinquished if the participant leaves the program. The Cuban government acknowledges that it withholds passports of overseas medical personnel in Venezuela; the government provided identification cards to such personnel. Many Cuban medical personnel claim they work long hours without rest and face substandard and dangerous working and living conditions in some countries, including a lack of hygienic conditions and privacy, and are forced to falsify medical records. In 2020, at least four Cuban medical professionals died after contracting COVID-19, three in Venezuela and one in Angola. Observers noted that failure to obtain adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers in Venezuela could have contributed to the death of at least one worker. In 2019, at least six professionals died, two were kidnapped, and others were sexually assaulted. Many medical professionals reported being sexually abused by their supervisors. Observers reported Cuban authorities coerced some participants to remain in the program, including by withholding their passports and medical credentials; restricting their movement; using “minders” to conduct surveillance of participants outside of work; threatening to revoke their licenses to practice medicine in Cuba; retaliating against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program; or imposing criminal penalties, exile, and family separation if participants do not return to Cuba as directed by government supervisors. Sources indicate that from March to mid-June 2020, the government used the pandemic as an opportunity to expand the reach of its exploitative export medical services, sending more than 2,770 workers to 26 countries to provide medical care. By September 2020, official government media reported medical missions in 39 countries (22 in the Americas), in addition to the 28,000 health workers already in 58 countries. All agreements were made under unclear financial arrangements. In addition to the medical missions, the government profited from other similarly coercive labor export programs, including dance teachers and sports coaches in Venezuela, engineers in South Africa, forestry technicians in Angola, and merchant mariners across the world.