Along the beautiful tropical littoral of the Atlantic coast lining northeastern South America lie two of the smallest countries in South America, under the radar of the international community: Guyana and Suriname. Within their humid jungles a vibrant illegal industry of human trafficking thrives, even as their respective governments strive – albeit one much harder than the other – to comply with global counter-trafficking efforts.
Trafficking in people (TIP) – recruiting, transporting, harboring or receiving of a person through force, in order to exploit them for prostitution, forced labor, or slavery – is measured dominantly by the TIP report: an annual report issued by the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons (1). Lacking physical enforcement mechanisms, the TIP report prefers to name-and-shame governments to encourage compliance with an array of counter-trafficking measures, updated yearly to demonstrate progress – or lack thereof – based on holistic measurements assembled from a variety of sources. The report is influential, “used by international organizations, foreign governments, and nongovernmental organizations alike as a tool to examine where resources are most needed” (2). The report breaks down countries into four categories:
Tier 1 - Countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's (TVPA) minimum standards
Tier 2 - Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards
Tier 2 Watch List – Countries near falling to Tier 3, or rising to Tier 2
Tier 3 - Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so (3)
Guyana and Suriname are both plagued by TIP, in part due to governmental and demographic/geographic settings conducive to such activities. Guyana has proudly made the jump from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2 in the past year. Yet, this ex-British colony remains “a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor… sex trafficking in mining communities…forced labor in the mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors…domestic service and shops” (4). With 90% of Guyana’s nearly 750,000 inhabitants confined to a coastal strip comprising only 10% of the country, as well as its close proximity to the trafficking hotbeds of Suriname, Brazil and the Caribbean, the dense jungles of Guyana have proved fertile grounds for human trafficking (5). This is particularly true among the illegal mining camps endemic to the country’s rural interior swathes of jungle (2).
Although corruption continues to plague Guyana’s counter-trafficking efforts, the government has made considerable efforts to tackle this issue, including its first conviction of a trafficker. Minding global compliance, Guyana has made concerted efforts towards this cause, pledging to “fight vigorously… and will join forces with like-minded persons, organisations and governments to stop vulnerable persons from falling into the hands of such perpetrators” (6). Particularly in light of the improved rating in the TIP report, Guyana looks to continue its efforts, perhaps serving as an inspiration and stabilizing force for surrounding states, and as a part of the infrastructure battling the global TIP epidemic, “the improved status is encouraging. Being off the watch list is a vindication of our efforts to counter [TIP]” (6). This further serves to propel Guyana into the international consciousness as a legitimate state, complete with the trappings of a successful anti-TIP infrastructure.
While Guyana has had tempered success in recent years complying with global and domestic counter-trafficking efforts, its neighbor Suriname has proved more problematic – wallowing in Tier 3 status. Faced with similar geographic obstacles as Guyana – namely the vast and uncontrolled jungle interior - the former Dutch colony has roundly failed to comply with global efforts, and remains a prolific center for TIP cases. As of the 2016 TIP report, Suriname remains “a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking and…forced labor. Reported cases of trafficking…have increased in recent years” (7). In addition to growing numbers of TIP cases around rural illegal mining camps – similar to the situation in Guyana – growing endemic poverty and governmental complicity and inaction have further complicated efforts to reverse this condition.
Particularly important in considering the TIP cases in Suriname, as opposed to Guyana, is the global scope with which Surinamese trafficking issues extend. Drawing from the growing trade in neighboring states like Venezuela, as well as significant migrant worker populations, Chinese, South American, Caribbean and Dutch trafficking networks remain prolific – placing Suriname as a major checkpoint on the perverse global highways of human-trafficking (7). This international network of illegal TIP demonstrates a consistent lack of compliance in counter-trafficking efforts by a largely inept government – hence their Tier 3 status – with limited prospects at elevation without drastic and systemic adjustments. This status not only helps propel the deeply destructive global human-trafficking industry, but also serves to illustrate Suriname’s institutional lack of legitimacy in the international counter-trafficking community. This continues a demonstrated pattern of systematic illicit activity throughout the state, including reigning in President Desi Bouterse’s conviction by Dutch courts to 11 years for drug trafficking (8).
The exact consequences of Suriname and Guyana’s comparative compliance with global counter-trafficking measures remain dubious. Indeed, despite clearly superior compliance, by many metrics of economic success and international support, Guyana actually falters behind Bouterse’s despotic regime in Suriname. Suriname enjoys special relationships with the Netherlands, the United States, and China, one of their primary human-trafficking partners, and all have remained largely unaffected by their conspicuous disregard for anti-TIP efforts (9). With their GDP per capita sitting at nearly half of Suriname’s (~$4,000) and struggling with hundreds of millions in debt – mostly to the US – Guyana has enjoyed steady relative economic growth in recent years, but remains the third poorest state in South America, their economy largely at the mercy of volatile commodity markets (10). As such, this raises a number of questions surrounding the efficacy and tactics of international anti-trafficking efforts, and more broadly, the place of human security concerns in discussions of international relations and geopolitics.
(1) Jesionka, Natalie. "Human Trafficking: The Myths and the Realities." Forbes, 24 Jan. 2012. Web. 28 August 2016.
(2) “2016 Trafficking in Persons Report.” U.S. Department of State, 2016. Web. 28 August 2016.
(3) “Tier Placements." U.S. Department of State, 2016. Web. 28 August 2016.
(4) “2016 Trafficking in Persons Report: Guyana.” U.S. Department of State, 2016. Web. 28 August 2016.
(5) “Guyana General Information.” Geographia.com. Web. 28 August 2016.
(6 “Guyana’s Off TIP Watch List.” Guyana Government Information Agency, 2016. Web. 28 August 28, 2016.
(7) “2016 Trafficking in Persons Report: Suriname.” U.S. Department of State, 2016. Web. 28 August 2016.
(8) “Coup Leader, Convicted Drug Trafficker, President.” South China Morning Post, 2015. Web. 28 August 2016.
(9) Suriname.” U.S. Department of State, 2016. Web. 28 August 2016.
(10) “Guyana.” The World Bank, 2016. Web. 28 August 2016.
Image: © Jerry Coli | Dreamstime.com - Vintage 1960's image of the Governor\'s Palace in Paramaribo, Suriname