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, political, and humanitarian crises continued, more than seven million Venezuelans have fled to countries around the world, more than six million have settled in 18 countries in the region. Traffickers allegedly recruit Venezuelan migrants into trafficking networks, particularly women and girls, using false promises of safe migration. Venezuelan trafficking victims have been identified in 24 countries over the last five years. Traffickers exploit Venezuelan nationals in Aruba, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, the People’s Republic of China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Guyana, Haiti, Iceland, Macau, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Spain, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. Venezuelan women and girls are particularly at risk of sex trafficking in neighboring countries. In 2022, Peruvian authorities reported identifying 589 Venezuelan women and girls exploited in sex trafficking between January and October. Many of them were exploited in mining encampments and in businesses serving miners. Traffickers lured women, including transgender women, to Spain and Germany with fraudulent employment opportunities and subjected them to forced surgical procedures before exploiting them in commercial sex. Traffickers increasingly exploit Venezuelan men in forced labor in other countries, including Aruba and Curaçao.
NSAGs, including Colombian illegal armed groups, especially near border regions, subject Venezuelans – particularly migrants – to forced criminality and use child soldiers. In 2019, the UN, foreign governments, media outlets, and credible NGOs reported members of the Maduro regime – including security forces and local representatives, especially those near border regions – colluded with, tolerated, and allowed Colombian illegal armed groups to operate in Venezuelan territory with impunity, while also confronting groups at other times. The regime reportedly provided support and a permissive environment to NSAGs that recruited children for armed conflict and forced criminality. Conflict among competing Colombian illegal armed groups for territorial control near the Venezuela-Colombia border led to the forced displacement of vulnerable Indigenous communities. Many fled in fear that their children might be recruited and used in armed conflict after receiving threats their children would be taken. These NSAGs grew through the recruitment of child soldiers and engaged in sex trafficking and forced labor. In some cases, they lured children in vulnerable conditions and dire economic circumstances with gifts and promises of basic sustenance for themselves and their families and later recruited 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 NSAGs indoctrinated, recruited, and engaged children in five Venezuelan states by using lectures, brochures, and school supply donations. Reports have documented the presence of six dissident movements comprising FARC-D 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 National Liberation Army camps located on the Venezuela side of the Colombia-Venezuela border. The regime imprisoned a civil society activist under politically motivated pretexts after his organization documented and denounced the regime’s support for NSAGs, including those that recruited children for armed conflict, among other crimes. Members of the Maduro regime likely profit from NSAGs’ criminal and terrorist activities inside Venezuela, including human trafficking, and such funds likely contribute to their efforts to maintain control. According to documents reportedly from the regime’s intelligence agency and published in Colombian press, the armed forces in 2019 ordered members of the Army, National Guard, and militias present in four states along the 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. The Maduro regime 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 Bolívar state, where traffickers exploit primarily women and girls in sex trafficking, forcibly recruit youth to join armed criminal groups, and force children to work in the mines under dangerous conditions. Approximately 45 percent of miners in Bolívar state were children and highly 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. In 2021, an NGO reported mining gangs and NSAGs operating near Delta Amacuro in Bolívar state led members of the Indigenous Warao community into Guyana to work long shifts in illegal mines with no medical care and under precarious conditions. Traffickers recruited Warao women to work as cooks in the mines and later subjected them to sex trafficking in Guyana.
Cuba’s labor export program had strong indicators for forced labor. There were between 19,500 and 21,000 Cuban medical workers in the country. In 2022, 17 Cuban medical workers stationed in Venezuela attempted to defect to Colombia but were arrested by the Maduro regime and turned over to Cuban authorities. These potential victims faced eight years of imprisonment upon arrival in Cuba. Cuban authorities ordered minders to take the passport of the remaining Cuban medical workers in Venezuela to prevent them from fleeing. NGOs reported an increased incidence of domestic servitude and sex trafficking within the country. According to civil society organizations, Venezuela has the highest rate in Latin America of people exploited in human trafficking, with 5.6 per 1,000 people.