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A few weeks ago, the Belize government contacted me to start talking about how o

ur organization could work with them to begin addressing human trafficking issue
s.
I was encouraged that a high-placed government official had made the initial ove
rture and I agreed to begin discussion on how we could work on common cause to s
top easy passage of trafficked women through Belize. Our position regarding the
link between human trafficking and forced prostitution had been made more than
clear in our online messages. It was also clear that our position drew a lot o
f its strength from the eyewitness accounts of the more than 100 trafficked girl
s our organization had hunted and recovered.
A national police raid of ficha bars in San Pedro had occurred several weeks bef
ore initial contact from the government representative. After the raid, the chi
ef of the country’s Criminal Investigation Branch had condemned the town as the si
te of a human trafficking ring, promising more action on human trafficking.
I was, therefore, disappointed and concerned that the government representative
wanted to deny and debate the significant rate of human trafficking and forced p
rostitution in Belize. Sadly, in all of our contacts with him, he would not eve
n agree with his own government that forced prostitution was a serious issue in
need of address.
He preferred the term “voluntary” prostitution to describe the majority of women in
the trade. He never once used the words “human trafficking.” It seemed odd that ot
her top Belize officials were not afraid to use the term. The raid had been ord
ered from the top tiers of government, so clearly they think there’s a problem and
, therefore, actioned the raid
It was proving unproductive to speak with a committed human trafficking denier.
Add to that, he felt that the best thing for us to do was to turn our PR campaig
n, as he dubbed it, into a pro Belize movement. He proposed to us that we immed
iately stop the Belize tourism boycott and use our online machinery to focus on
all the positive actions taken to combat human trafficking and assist its victim
s.
Positive actions? Where are they? No human trafficking convictions since 2005.
No enforcement of liquor licensing laws that make bar owners liable for a fine
for allowing prostitution on their premises. Few if any have been fined under
this law. The list of black marks goes on. The list of so-called positive act
ions is very short and the results questionable.
Take for example the thousands of dollars raised by Human Development CEO Judith
Alpuche for a shelter in Belize City. It’s ready and equipped, but remains close
d. It’s not clear how many identified trafficking victims she helps as she is man
dated to do.
Granted, there was the recent CSEC symposium hosted the first lady. Mrs. Kim Bar
row Hosts National Symposium on CSEC This was her second symposium and it did hi
ghlight the overall issue of protecting children from sexual exploitation. Huma
n trafficking was included as a topic at the symposium. While we applaud the fir
st lady for her attempts, few results can be anticipated from this conference. S
he must understand clearly the battle she has before her. Please keep going Mrs.
Barrow you have a large ocean to cross. We are firmly on your side.
In our communication with the government official, I also asked some questions r
egarding the follow-up to the San Pedro police raid. For example, what happened
to the human trafficking victims remanded to Hattieville? What happened to the
minors? Why was the manager of one of the busted bars charged with human traffi
cking and not the owner? I got no answers from him and had to wait a few weeks
to get some answers through limited media coverage of legal follow-up to the po
lice raid.
Again, I was disappointed with our government contact. We have some strong conc
erns about accusing the Guatemalan manager, though she’s since been released on ba
il. From our point of view, it seems that it’s a lot easier for Belize to deflect
this, blaming a Guatemalan for being in Belize rather than getting to the heart
of their human trafficking problem. We know the person who should really be cha
rged with human trafficking is a local person of somewhat prominent status on th
e island. This is a person who is close to Mayor Paz and her brothers and enjoys
their protection. Nothing’s going to happen to that bar owner on that Island.
In my last exchange with the government official, he suggested I sit down with C
EO Alpuche and begin discussions with her. We declined to speak with her as she
is not someone who has made any inroads on behalf of human trafficking victims
even though she’s been given the responsibility and money to do so. And, she is n
ot a decision-maker.
I concluded that I could not continue talks with a human trafficking denier. Pa
rticularly when his own government had to already acknowledged the problem. I h
ave asked this official to escalate us to government decision-makers. I assume
he has passed on the message to his higher-ups.
We reaffirm our commitment to work in partnership with Belize government to addr
ess human trafficking of women into involuntary prostitution.