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Embassy workers describe "personal hell"

Two former employees of Paraguay's ambassador to France say they were treated like dogs.

Now the pair, after filing a formal complaint, has decided to speak out seeking justice and reparations for their lost wages, “so this can end once and for all.” They hope to spare others the same experience, akin to living as a slave in the heart of a modern, progressive society.

In October 2008, Bogarin and Torres filed a complaint that eventually reached Paraguay’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government body responsible for the country’s embassies abroad. The complaint described their treatment by the ambassador who employed them, Luis Fernando Avalos Gimenez, a career diplomat who previously held posts in Korea and Spain.

In repeated calls to the embassy, Elina Lopez Caballero, the first secretary, said the ambassador would not comment on the allegations, citing the fact that it was a “private matter.” Both Lopez and the Ministry in Paraguay confirmed that Avalos would be leaving his post in July and returning to Paraguay in a government reshuffle. The embassy, with Avalos at its helm, is presently under investigation in connection with “irregularities,” according to Fabian Silva, of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s communication office.

Silva said a total of 20 embassies were part of a routine audit resulting from a change of government. In April, Paraguay, a landlocked South American country of less than 7 million, elected Fernando Lugo as president and ended 61 years of continuous rule by the conservative Colorado party. Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop who has been embroiled in paternity scandals since taking office, set high on his priority list rooting out corruption and fighting economic and social inequality.

Silva said the employees' complaint has sparked an unusually intense investigation of the Paris embassy, which includes a look into the mismanagement of funds. “It is a very serious accusation that these employees have made,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against practices like those that landed Bogarin and Torres far from home and feeling “exploited.” “Modern slavery, a crime that spans the globe, providing ruthless employers with an endless supply of people to abuse for financial gain,” according to Clinton; the topic was the subject of a U.S. government report released in June.

“The Obama administration views the fight against human trafficking, both at home and abroad, as a critical part of our foreign policy agenda,” she said in her remarks. “With this report, we hope to shine the light brightly on the scope and scale of modern slavery so all governments can see where progress has been made and where more is needed.”