The Sadness of the Blue Heart of México

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-6-59-00-pmBy Deborah Van Hoewyk

In 2009, México was the first Latin American country to sign up for the United Nations’ “Blue Heart Campaign” (Campaña Corazón Azul) against human trafficking. You’ve probably never heard of it, and no doubt most Mexicans immediately forgot about it, because it had to be “resuscitated” in 2015.

In 2009, Mexico’s participation in Corazón Azul was officially launched by President Felipe Calderón. “It is imperative,” he said, “to raise social awareness, to act with determination, to stop the inhuman practices that turn people into merchandise. Human beings are not, cannot be, for sale.”

In the next year or so, official adoption activities occurred in Puebla, Sinaloa, Quintana Roo, Querétaro, and Baja California. Academic forums were held in Mexico City, Mérida, and Monterrey. At the federal level, Mexico issued a postage stamp and put up a website

More interestingly, the Secretariat of Health commissioned and distributed a set of four comic books that explored why and how people get seduced into being trafficked, pulled few punches about what happens to trafficking victims, and showed how people can escape. “Brutal ataque” (Brutal Attack) shows how economic stress leads to illegal migration to the U.S., ending up in forced slave labor. In “Sueños rotos” (Broken Dreams), two teenage girls are attracted to dashing suitors, then seduced, then forced, eventually with drugs, to become strippers and then prostitutes. “Ní un golpe más” (Not One More Blow) shows the course of domestic violence through dating, marriage, and slavery in the house of the wife’s mother-in-law. “El trabajo de mi vida” (The Work of My Life), another tale of seduction into prostitution. Not all the characters live to tell their tales.

But stamps and web sites and comic books and conferences don’t seem to have done much to help the situation. The U.S. State Department analyzes human trafficking on a yearly basis. México is a “Tier 2” country, which means that Mexican laws don’t meet the standards of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but the country is making efforts to do so. (The TVPA is intended to protect victims in the United States, prevent U.S. citizens from participating on the receiving end of international human trafficking, and address the problem with international cooperation.)


The State Department defines México as a “source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children” who are trafficked for sex and forced labor. Most often victimized are women, children, indigenous people, persons with mental and physical disabilities, migrants from farther south in Latin America, and LGBTI individuals. Child sex tourism is a problem, especially along the U.S./México border.

There is little evidence on just how much trafficking is going on, although one estimate for people trafficked into the United States from México is 50,000 a year. Excelsior, a major Mexican newspaper, estimates 70,000 people a year fall victim to trafficking inside México. Within Mexico, 1,814 victims—about 2.5% of the estimated total—were identified in 2015: 43% were prostituted, 26% were enslaved, 21% were forced to beg, 1% were forced to commit crimes, and 9% were unspecified.

Issues that make it difficult to eliminate human trafficking are varied. Although México revamped its federal trafficking law in 2014, there is inconsistent enforcement at the state and local level; even within the law, the definition of what constitutes human trafficking is fuzzy. Along with the law, the federal government produced an action plan for 2014-18, but appropriated no funding to support it.

So far, fewer than half the Mexican states have aligned their laws with the new federal law, so local processes for charging and convicting traffickers are not standardized. There is little or no protection for victims who testify against traffickers. The State Department’s assessment notes a conviction rate for trafficking prosecution cases of about 2%, the same as the conviction rate for all offenses in México.

The two most significant barriers to eliminating human trafficking, however, are rampant complicity on the part of the authorities at all levels, and a shift from small family “crime clans” to major drug cartels as the big players.

In 2014, the UN staged the first ever World Day against Human Trafficking (July 30), and then in August sponsored a 10-episode marathon of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit; the series Graceland also ran a short story arc on trafficking that featured the Blue Heart Campaign. Building on the 2014 passage of the federal anti-trafficking law, México relaunched the Campaña Corazón Azul in March 2015. There are positive signs beyond the new federal law; cross-border cooperation on trafficking that ends in the U.S. has strengthened, and the Mexican government has greatly increased funding for victim assistance. On the other hand, the power of positive public awareness needs a serious boost if it’s going to keep the Blue Heart from landing in intensive care again.

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