By Sister Dina A.

In considering the issue of human trafficking, it seems that in Panama this scourge has been very well hidden—or simply, it is so regular and normal, that it has become very common and no one is surprised.

In the golden years of the construction of the inter-oceanic railroad in 1855 and the Panama Canal in 1914, prostitution was exercised with the consent and total impunity of the authorities. Corruption flowed over to judges, police and the local mafia since they received money from this illicit act. The military presence of the United States Southern Command in Panama, which started in 1963 and continues today, ensured that all U.S. military levels have “entertainment” in the military bases, bars, brothels and prostitution houses. Furthermore, with Panama being such a strategic global connection point for immigration, arms trafficking, mafia, drugs and money laundering, it is no wonder it is likewise a strategic point for human trafficking. 

Foreigners from Nepal and Pakistan are brought to Panama across the border of Colombia, to be later led out across the Costa Rican border headed for the United States. So, too, our brothers and sisters in South America, especially Colombians, Haitians, Dominicans, Salvadorans and Venezuelans, come to Panama to take refuge or seek better opportunities than those in their countries of origin. When they arrive they become subject to sexual exploitation (source: U.S. State Department).

However, it was not until November, 2011, that human trafficking was declared a crime in Panama. Yet, even after the enactment of the law, only two cases of human trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation have been investigated in the past two years by the special prosecutor against organized crime. Of these two cases, only one has gone to trial. Although there are 15 allegations in Colombia of women who claim to have been the subject of sexual exploitation in Panama, none of these cases reported by Colombia have been investigated.

March 28, 2014, will be recorded in history, because that is the first time in Panama that a network composed of five persons was condemned. This network brought Colombian and Dominican women to Panama for sexual exploitation in nightclubs in the capital city and for money laundering. The victims had been lured with promises of work, and once in Panama their passports were withheld. They were not allowed to leave and they were forced into prostitution. However, the sad thing in this case is that no sanctions were given on those premises (bars, brothels and prostitution houses) that allow this type of violation of rights and sexual abuse, so trafficking continues.

We have an enormous task to sensitize and educate the population about this scourge. It is necessary to break the silence and take action against this indifference, since blindness to human trafficking is inhuman and heartless, and takes advanced societies back to the times of slavery. You and I have a monumental task; let us start today!

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