“If the girls give me trouble I hurt them.” These are the words of human trafficker Aktham Zuhair Salem Madanat. Known for trafficking girls from Cuba to the United Kingom, Madanat had no qualms about openly discussing how he lured 10- and 11-year-old girls into the sex trade. In fact, Madanat is one of many involved in the lucrative human trafficking market throughout Cuba and beyond.

In order to fight human trafficking, the State Department annually presents its Global Trafficking in Persons Report, a survey of 184 countries that measures compliance with human trafficking regulations specified in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

The 2011 Report places Cuba and Venezuela on the Tier 3 list.

The Tier 3 designation is reserved for countries that do not comply with the minimum requirements in TVPA. Noncompliant countries receiving U.S. assistance can be sanctioned.

Cuba’s placement on Tier 3 is both warranted and necessary. Because prostitution is not criminalized for anyone over the age of 16, it is difficult to track child prostitution in Cuba. Economic malfeasance in Cuba has forced many young women into the sex-for-sale industry. Cuba’s tourism industry generated around $2 billion just in the past year, and illicit sex is a burgeoning part of the tourism industry profile. In fact, it has been suggested that the Cuban government even encourages sex tourism as a source for foreign cash that keeps the communist regime afloat.

Fidel and Raul Castro have turned a blind eye to sex tourism and human trafficking. One of Fidel Castro’s flippant brush-offs included the following:

There are no women forced to sell themselves to a man, to a foreigner, to a tourist…Those who do so do it on their own, voluntarily and without any need for it. We can say that they are highly educated hookers and quite healthy…

Such cynical views have landed Cuba a spot on Tier 3. Cuba’s blind eye toward sex tourism and human trafficking appears contradictory in a society where the state regulates virtually everything else.

Venezuela, home to Castro ally Hugo Chávez, also experiences high levels of trafficking, where of the 40,000 to 50,000 sex trafficked children, 78 percent are girls between the ages of 8 and 17. Venezuela’s placement on Tier 3 is the result of a failure to enforce existing trafficking laws or enact new anti-trafficking legislation.

Despite the large number of youth affected by human trafficking, Cuba and Venezuela continue to turn a blind eye to an age-old problem. It is striking how far these anti-American regimes will go to defy the U.S. in its efforts to eliminate the vestiges of modern-day slavery.

Olivia Snow is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm