Human trafficking is among the most lucrative types of illegal trade. Socio-political and economic unrest creates a situation rife with opportunity for this illegal trade with many children, women, and men being lost and exploited. Popular culture has identified regions like eastern Europe and Southeast Asia has having the largest concentrated risk of being trafficked. It is simply a risk to all - everywhere.
Latin America is a region that “continues to be used by human trafficking rings from all around the world, with nationals from 96 countries being detected in North American countries.” While the prevalence of human trafficking in this region is not surprising, the lack of attention is. Latin America is so commonly associated with the illegal drug trade and associated criminal activities, human trafficking can be overlooked. However, it is these vast drug operations and organized crime groups that cultivate an environment with opportunity to other forms of illegal trade -- ultimately, whatever avenue is the easiest and most lucrative.
While Latin American nations are working hard to curb the human trafficking in the region, violence and instability in countries of the region create significant challenges. Non-profit organizations like the Polaris Project help advocate and educate on ways to combat human trafficking. In a 2018, Insight Crime, a foundation dedicated to the study of organized crime in Latin America, identified five strategies to combat human trafficking:
- Raise public awareness
- Empower strategic industries
- Collaborate beyond traditional law enforcement
- Develop a coordinated transnational response
- Follow the money
The fifth strategy resonates the most with the AML community as it relates to the detection and prevention of money laundering. Financial institutions play an important role in combating human trafficking, not just by identifying the source of illicit funds, but also in requiring their own institution and even clients to adopt anti-human trafficking best practices.
The socio-political and economic crisis in Venezuela and Nicaragua continues to put thousands, if not millions, at risk, which criminal groups seek to exploit. The criminal economy of human trafficking is expected to grow in 2019. It remains to be seen if the social investments and central institutions in the region will continue to make positive gains in regards to detecting, prosecuting and convicting criminal actors.