San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Report identifies Costa Rica sex tourism centers

Costa Rica is a source and destination for human sex trafficking and forced labor, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons report. The report states women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of sex trafficking and forced servitude. Costa Rica was downgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List this year, joining 39 other countries in danger of potential economic sanctions from the United States.

This is the second time in 10 years that Costa Rica has been included on the Tier 2 Watch List, the last being in 2008.

The State Department report places nations in one of four categories based on efforts to combat human trafficking and the degree of aid provided to victims. The best ranking is Tier 1. Tier 2 includes countries that demonstrate efforts to address the problem. The Tier 2 Watch List includes countries that show signs of slipping to Tier 3, the lowest level.

The report identified the provinces of Guanacaste, Limón, Puntarenas and San José as centers of child sex tourism in Costa Rica. Sex tourists mainly come to Costa Rica from the United States, Germany, Sweden and Italy, the report stated.

The country’s anti-trafficking law-enforcement unit of eight investigators was strengthened during the year and reported conducting at least 20 investigations. However, authorities failed to make a single conviction during the reporting period. In 2010, authorities prosecuted a lone U.S. citizen for alleged sexual exploitation of a child; however, once again, the suspect was not convicted. Overall, the government reported minimal efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor during the reporting period, the report stated.

Kathya Rodríguez, general director of the Immigration Office, said there are several reasons why it is difficult to obtain convictions in human trafficking cases. First, she said it can be extremely hard to persuade victims to testify against traffickers.

“They are often afraid of public humiliation or just don’t want to be associated with human trafficking,” she said.

Rodríguez added that many victims are afraid of retaliation from organized crime and often do not have confidence in the Costa Rican legal system. 

“A lot of people don’t want to talk,” she said. “If they do, they are putting not only themselves in jeopardy, but also their families.”

Achieving convictions is complicated further because organized crime is often linked to more than one country, Rodríguez said.

“If someone is brought to Costa Rica from somewhere else, you often have to tie them back to the country they came from and work through that country’s legal system,” she said. “It can be really difficult to uncover the roots of the organization responsible when they are operating across many different countries.”

Lastly, Rodríguez said the criminal code on human trafficking needs to be reformed. The State Department report states a draft law currently before Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly contains stronger victim protection measures and detailed plans for interagency cooperation. However, the definition of trafficking in the draft law stipulates movement across international borders but not force, fraud or coercion as elements that establish the crime as trafficking.

The State Department branded 23 out of a total of 184 nations as falling into the Tier 3 category, up from 13 in 2010. An estimated 27 million men, women and children live in forced bondage around the world, according to the State Department. In Latin America, Venezuela, for the first time, and Cuba are in Tier 3. Panama, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador join Costa Rica on the Tier 2 Watch List.

“All countries can and must do more,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a June 27 presentation of the report. “More human beings are being exploited today than ever before.”

Clinton presented Leonel Dubon of Guatemala a 2011 Hero Acting to End Modern-Day Slavery Award. He was one of 10 people awarded for devoting their lives to the fight against human trafficking, and the only recipient from Central America. Dubon created an NGO and safe house called El Refugio de la Niñez (Children’s Refuge House) for underage female sex trafficking victims.

Tico Times reporter Rommel Téllez contributed to this report.

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