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Cuban-American lawmakers react with alarm to Cuba's upgrade on trafficking report

@CAdamsMcClatchy

Cuban-American lawmakers reacted incredulously to the upgrade that Cuba received from the U.S. State Department in its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report.”

The report, released Monday, is a compilation of nations that have made inadequate progress preventing activities such as sex trafficking or forced labor.

This year, 23 countries were on the on the report’s Tier 3 –- nations such as Iran, North Korea, Libya, Russia and others “whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”

Gone from the list? Cuba.

In a briefing, Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall detailed serious problems that remain in Cuba, and noted that the designation for nations such as Cuba “does not mean that a country is free from problems or free from human trafficking.”

Cuba was upgraded, she said, because of progress by its government in addressing and prosecuting sex trafficking -– as well as the commitments it has made to become compliant with the minimum standards.

The U.S. remains concerned about Cuba in part because of its “failure to recognize forced labor as a problem or to act to combat it,” she said.

While other nations also moved tiers, three prominent Cuban-American lawmakers reacted to Cuba’s upgrade with alarm.

"Upgrades for Malaysia and Cuba are a clear politicization of the report, and a stamp of approval for countries who have failed to take the basic actions to merit this upgrade,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, in a statement.

Specifically on Cuba, he added that “adults and children are subjected to sex trafficking and the government continues perpetrating abusive practices of forced labor, coercing tens of thousands of its own doctors and medical professionals to serve abroad under conditions that violate international norms.”

The upgrade “challenges common sense” and he pledged to use “all of the tools at my disposal -– from hearings to legislation to investigations –- to challenge these upgrades.”

Likewise, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from West Miami and a presidential candidate, said in a statement, “I find it difficult to believe that Cuba has been elevated this year from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List solely based on the Cuban regime’s record.”

And U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican and also chairwoman of a House Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee, said in a statement that “it has become clear that the White House’s willingness to bend over backward to appease the ruthless dictators in Cuba knows no bounds.”

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