Sen. Marco Rubio Thursday morning called the State Department's upgrade of Cuba's human trafficking status an "embarrassment," and requested documentation into the decision that senators on both sides of the aisle have called political.
The Florida Republican, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, urged Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter to reconsider the upgrade from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List, because "Over the past year, Cuba has done almost nothing to combat human trafficking." "In fact, while the 2015 trafficking report claims there were improvements in certain areas, Cuba still has not even bothered to create a single law that identifies labor trafficking as a crime," Rubio wrote. "Additionally, the progress which was identified in convicting sex trafficking cases was minimal, an improvement of 3 cases in 2013. I appreciate every trafficker who faces the proper justice but I would not call an increase of 3 cases a major improvement and a major factor for an upgrade in tier ranking."
In the annual Trafficking in Persons Report , released in July, the State Department argued the Cuban upgrade was justified by the country's "significant effort" to achieve the minimum level of standards to eliminate trafficking, citing the prosecution and conviction of 13 sex traffickers, as well as support for victims, along with slow progress in reforming the communist nation's penal code, which does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking.
Tier 3 is the lowest tier. Cuba had been Tier 3 for years until this upgrade, which Rubio and others say coincides with administration efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with the country.
"I urge you to reconsider Cuba’s ranking," Rubio wrote in the letter. "Also, I formally request all prior drafts of the Cuba portion of the 2015 TIP Report, the names of all State Department and White House officials who signed off on the Cuba section of the report, and a copy of the Cuban Government's national action plan to combat trafficking."
Rubio missed a Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week while on the campaign trail — the debate for GOP presidential contenders was later that evening and Rubio is running for the nomination — but he has been consistently vocal in his opposition to the Trafficking In Persons Report, President Barack Obama's normalization of relations with Cuba and the Castro regime.
The three senators who attended last week's hearing blasted the TIP Report and batted around a State Department official, primarily over Malaysia's upgrade — also viewed as a political decision — which allows the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal to continue along a fast-track path with the country included.
Kerry denied to reporters earlier in August that the Malaysia upgrade, which he approved, had anything to do with the massive trade deal and had everything to do with efforts made by the Malaysian government.
"I personally signed off on it," Kerry said of the upgrade. "And I had zero conversation with anybody in the administration about the Trans-Pacific Partnership relative to this decision — zero. The reason I made this decision was based on the recommendation of my team, because Malaysia has passed additional legislation in 2014, they've consulted with civil society, they drafted amendments to Malaysia's anti-trafficking law in order to allow the country's flawed victim protection regime to change."
Rubio's entire letter can be found here .
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