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 Cooperación Médica (UCCM), the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment. The government has not addressed its exploitative, deceptive, and coercive policies in these missions, which are clear indicators of human trafficking. According to a government report, by the end of 2020, there were 56 brigades of the “Henry Reeve” contingent in 40 countries with 4,941 medical workers, included in the 30,407 workers in 66 countries. The labor export program employed or currently employs professionals in Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Kuwait, Lesotho, Liberia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Qatar, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Suriname, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Arab of Emirates, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Some overseas departments or territories, such as the British Virgin Islands, French Guiana, Grenada, Montserrat, Martinique, and Turks and Caicos, may have Cuban workers who may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Authorities employ workers 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 have also 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. In almost all accounts, workers receive only a portion of their salary ranging from 5 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.
In 2021, and with the support of an international NGO, 1,111 alleged victims of trafficking filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court and the UN, claiming the Cuban government was responsible for exploiting them and forcing them to work in Cuba’s labor export programs. The complaint stated that 75 percent of participants reported not volunteering for the missions, 33 percent never saw a contract, 69 percent did not know their final destination, 38 percent had their passport taken away by Cuban officials once they arrived at their destination, 76 percent had “minders,” 76 percent could not freely befriend locals, 79 percent had restrictions of movement, 91 percent were told they could not return to Cuba if they defected, 75 percent suffered threats or witnessed coworkers be threatened, and 40 percent were separated from minor children as punishment for defecting. 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. Many medical professionals reported being sexually abused by their supervisors. While the medical missions remain the most prevalent, the government profited from other similarly coercive labor export programs, including teachers, artists, athletes, sports coaches, engineers, forestry technicians, and nearly 7,000 merchant mariners across the world.