As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Venezuela, and traffickers exploit Venezuelan victims abroad. As the economic situation continued to spiral into critical deterioration, more than 5.6 million Venezuelans have fled Venezuela to neighboring countries. Traffickers have exploited Venezuelan victims in Aruba, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Haiti, Iceland, Macau, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Spain, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Venezuelan women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking in Colombia, Ecuador, and Trinidad and Tobago. In 2020, 23 percent of victims identified in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo were Venezuelan. In 2019, Spanish authorities reported that Venezuela was the number one source country for victims exploited in Spain. In 2019, NGOs noted an increase in cases of sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service and, in 2020, an increase in cases of sex trafficking and forced labor in the mining sector within the country. Traffickers increasingly exploit Venezuelan men in forced labor in other countries, including Aruba and Curacao.
Non-state armed groups, including Colombian illegal armed groups, especially near border regions, subjected Venezuelans to forced criminality and forced recruitment. In 2019, the UN, foreign governments, media outlets, and credible NGOs reported Maduro regime officials, including members of security forces and local authorities, including those near border regions, colluded with, tolerated, and allowed Colombian illegal armed groups to operate in Venezuelan territory with impunity. These officials reportedly provided support and a permissive environment to non-state armed groups that recruited children for armed conflict and forced criminality. These non-state armed groups grew through the recruitment of child soldiers and engaged in sex trafficking and forced labor. They lured children in vulnerable conditions and dire economic circumstances with gifts and promises of basic sustenance for themselves and their families to later recruit them into their ranks. These groups recruited children to strengthen their operations and terrorize border communities in Venezuela and neighboring countries, especially Colombia, in areas with limited governance. An NGO reported non-state armed groups indoctrinated, recruited, and engaged children in five Venezuelan states using lectures, brochures, and school supply donations. Reports have documented the presence of six dissident movements comprising ex-FARC combatants in at least seven of 24 Venezuelan states, including Amazonas, Apure, Bolívar, Guárico, Mérida, Táchira, and Zulia, five of which are border states. In 2019, Colombian authorities estimated there were approximately 36 ELN camps located on the Venezuela side of the Colombia-Venezuela border. Members of the Maduro regime probably profit from such non-state armed groups’ criminal and terrorist activities inside Venezuela, including human trafficking, and such funds likely contribute to their efforts to maintain their illegitimate control. According to documents reportedly from Venezuela’s intelligence agency (SEBIN) and published in Colombian press, the Armed Forces in 2019 ordered members of the Army, National Guard, and militias present in four states along with Colombia-Venezuela border to avoid engaging unspecified allied groups in Venezuelan territory and encouraged the armed forces to aid and support their operations. These groups threaten to destabilize the region, as they grow their ranks exploiting children in sex trafficking, forced labor, and forced recruitment. According to NGOs, forced labor is a common punishment for violating rules imposed by armed groups. Illegal armed groups forced Venezuelans, including children, to work in mining areas and women and girls into sex trafficking. Traffickers subject Venezuelan women and girls, including some lured from poor interior regions to Caracas, Maracaibo, and Margarita Island, to sex trafficking and child sex tourism within the country. Traffickers, often relatives of the victims, exploit Venezuelan children in domestic servitude within the country. Venezuelan officials and international organizations have reported identifying sex and labor trafficking victims from South American, Caribbean, Asian, and African countries in Venezuela. Foreign nationals living in Venezuela subject Ecuadorians, Filipinos, and other foreign nationals to domestic servitude. Illegal gold mining operations exist in some of the country’s most remote areas, including the Orinoco Mining Arc in Bolivar state, where traffickers exploit girls in sex trafficking, forcibly recruit youth to join armed criminal groups, and force children to work in the mines under dangerous conditions. In 2019, there was an increase in sex and labor trafficking in the informal gold mining sector. It was estimated roughly 45 percent of miners in Bolívar state were underage and extremely vulnerable to trafficking. Armed groups exploit civilians and kidnapping victims in sex trafficking and forced labor, including farming, domestic service, and construction. Workers recruited from other areas of the country were victims of forced labor and manipulated through debt, threats of violence, and even death. Traffickers exploited women and girls, especially those from indigenous communities. Some doctors participating in Cuba’s overseas medical program showed indicators of forced labor. The Cuban government may have forced Cubans medical workers participating in its government-sponsored medical missions in Venezuela to work. Some Cuban medical professionals posted in Venezuela indicated Cuban minders withheld their documentation and coerced them to falsify medical records. An NGO reported failure to obtain adequate personal protective equipment for medical workers could have contributed to the death of at least one Cuban medical worker.