United Nations expert probes human trafficking in Cuba in milestone trip

Cuba welcomes U.N. special rapporteur to human rights council

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HAVANA – An independent expert from the United Nations has arrived in Cuba to evaluate the human trafficking situation on the island for the first time in a decade.

Special Rapporteur Maria Grazia Giammarinaro is expected to visit a school and meet parliament leader Esteban Lazo during the four-day visit beginning Monday. She also has scheduled trips to the provinces of Matanzas and Artemisa.

Such U.N. visits are routine in other countries, but Cuba has generally rejected inspections by international organizations. The government has relaxed that stance somewhat in recent years, and state officials welcomed Giammarinaro upon her arrival and stressed that Cuba has a zero-tolerance policy on trafficking.

Giammarinaro expects to analyze what progress Cuba has made and challenges it still faces regarding trafficking, including sexual and labor exploitation. The findings will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2018.

Other trips to Cuba by U.N. experts are still pending, including one related to torture.

Giammarinaro’s visit comes three months after the United States ended its so-called wet foot, dry foot policy, which for over two decades allowed nearly all Cubans who reached U.S. soil to remain. Island officials had long complained about it, arguing that it contributed to human trafficking.

The policy was scrapped in January days before then-President Barack Obama left office, as part of a process of normalizing relations between Washington and Havana.

The United States previously removed Cuba from its blacklist of countries it says have failed to fight modern-day slavery after diplomatic relations were formally restored in July 2015.

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