Opponents of President Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba are now further outraged over reports that the State Department is poised to remove the island nation from the list of worst offenders when it comes to human trafficking and forced labor.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a prominent member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said a 2014 State Department report on human trafficking said child prostitution and child sex tourism runs rampant in Cuba, and that children as young as 13 the most vulnerable.
The Florida Republican also charged that the Castro regime not only fails to prevent sex trafficking of adults and children, but it actively "supports and sponsors" the sex tourism industry "in order to reap the financial benefits." She said these are among the reasons why State needs to leave Cuba on the list.
"If true, this upgrade in Cuba's status in the annual report is nothing short of appeasement and it is a disgrace unbecoming of an administration that claims to hold human rights as one of its top priorities," Ros-Lehtinen said. "The Obama administration has chosen to once again discard the hard facts to continue the president's legacy shopping."
Late Thursday, Reuters and several other news outlets reported that the State Department is poised to upgrade Cuba to the so-called Tier 2 Watch List in the State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report from Tier 3, the lowest rank where it has languished for 12 years.
The designation has been an irritant to the Castro regime, which says it's inaccurate.
"Every time this report is published, it has been harshly criticized in Cuba," Gustavo Machin, deputy director of U.S. affairs in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Havana on Thursday, according to Reuters. "It is based on falsehoods. We think we have exemplary conduct in the care of boys and girls, the youth and adolescents."
The State Department didn't respond to a request for comment.