Wednesday, October 20

Trinidad and Tobago: Shipwrecks deepen the drama of Venezuelan rafters: “People are escaping” | International

A boat with Venezuelan migrants, last November.
A boat with Venezuelan migrants, last November.LINCOLN HOLDER/COURTESY NEWSDAY / Reuters

The tragedy is consummated with increasing frequency in the waters between Güiria, in the extreme east of Venezuela, and the beach of Chaguaramas in the neighboring island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Less than 100 kilometers have become an active corridor for Venezuelan migrant smugglers, forced to leave by the increasingly severe economic, political and social crisis in an oil country that has indicators of hunger, poverty and devastation typical of a war situation, without being it.

The tide carried 19 bodies to the Venezuelan coast this weekend. This Sunday, 11 of them had already been transferred from the dock of the port of Güiria to the morgue of the Carúpano hospital, the closest to this town, almost three hours away by road. There were four men, four women and three children, one of them a month-old baby. The photograph of the swollen and visibly decomposed corpses, placed on the cement floor of the Güiria marina, ran through social networks at the end of Saturday, a day in which a part of the country was still hung over from abstention in an election parliamentarians surrounded by accusations of fraud that screwed Nicolás Maduro into power and another part clung to the popular consultation promoted by Juan Guaidó.

Residents of Güiria say that on the night of election Sunday two boats, My hope and My memory, they had sailed from the Venezuelan shores, each with more than 20 passengers. The two rafts were reported missing the same day. A week later, due to the tattoos on one of the bodies found, that of Gabriela Subero, they presume that the ship that had problems was My hope, where she traveled. This Sunday, some relatives waited at the pier for more news about the other passengers. Xioleimar Mata approached the facility to find out about two of his friends who rode on My memory “I spoke with the wife of one of them who is in Trinidad, but there the authorities do not give them information. They dont know anything. They presume that they are imprisoned, hopefully, and that they have not been shipwrecked, ”says the woman by phone.

Some information indicates that migrants who went in My memory they warned that they had already made landfall, but they are still missing. Local reporters have indicated that relatives ruled out that the bodies found corresponded to those of some of those who were on that boat, where 11 of the passengers belong to the same family that emigrated together. Mata also discards it, because he says that his friends are very tall, they measure more than two meters, and there is no corpse with those characteristics among those found. They are two tragedies that crossed in the dangerous waters of Dragon’s Mouth.

Mata’s partner, Isidro Villegas, lost their son last year on one of those trips. Andy had emigrated to Trinidad and Tobago and returned to Güiria in December 2018 to pick up his wife and son and settle permanently in the island country. The passports did not come out and the reunification of the family had to be postponed. The young man who should be 33 years old today left for the island on May 16, 2019 on the boat Ana Maria, that disappeared without a trace. He is part of more than a hundred Venezuelans that the International Organization for Migration reported as missing migrants in the Caribbean in 2019. Villegas joined other families in a committee to denounce the presence of human trafficking networks that act with complicity of Venezuelan authorities and neighboring countries such as Trinidad and Tobago and the former Netherlands Antilles of Aruba and Curaçao. Faced with the stalemate in the Venezuelan courts of the case of her son and two other boats that disappeared last year, the families have turned to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “This is something that has not stopped happening, because in Venezuela people are escaping, because whatever you do, you won’t even be able to eat.”


Villegas says that the exit through Güiria has become the cheapest and fastest. Migrants pay $ 300 for the trip (about 247 euros). When they set foot on the Chaguaramas beach, they had to run to escape from the Trinidad police. The biggest risk, besides shipwreck or deportation, is falling into a raft of human traffickers for exploitation. “This area has always been used by smugglers of all kinds. They take out drugs, fuel, strategic materials such as copper, aluminum, minerals, uranium, and now they also take out people ”.

Migrants arrive from all over Venezuela to leave on the illegal sailings that occur almost daily on the coasts of Güiria, Irapa or Delta Amacuro, denounces opposition deputy Robert Alcalá, representative in the Parliament of the eastern state of Sucre. Mata says that last week he met two boys, a girl and a boy, at the village bakery, who were waiting for one of those outings. “I don’t know if now they will be in that wreck.”

The Government of Trinidad has put a fence on Venezuelan migration, which now reaches more than 40,000 people. At the end of November, a group of Venezuelans, including 16 children, was deported in two rafts and left adrift one day. By order of a court, the children were returned but remain in detention in Trinidad. Reports of mistreatment and arrests are frequent on the island. And in the deportation policy they seem to have found an ally in Venezuela. After this incident, which was condemned internationally, at least 160 Venezuelans returned to the country in a deportation operation coordinated by the Armed Forces of Venezuela.

The governments of Nicolás Maduro and Trinidadian Prime Minister Keith Rowley have held cordial meetings to discuss issues around human mobility and security, even after Rowley considered the arrival of migrants and refugees to his country “an assault” and threaten more deportations for Venezuelans without papers and for those who, even with legal status, will collaborate with them. Opposition leader David Smolansky, commissioner of the Organization of American States (OAS) for the migration crisis in Venezuela, has denounced that Trinidad and Tobago violates the principle of non-refoulement that protects Venezuelan migrants and refugees. He assured that the peñero who was shipwrecked six miles off the Venezuelan coast had reached its destination and was returned. It is the only country in the region that has not allowed it to enter to assess the situation of its compatriots.

So far, neither Maduro nor Rowley have commented on the dead from the shipwreck. It is also unknown whether an air and sea search for survivors or other bodies has been activated in the area. Alcalá says that after the deportations from Trinidad, the mistreatment continues on Venezuelan soil. “They are detained in rusty containers at the Güiria Coast Guard headquarters to carry out their quarantine, structures that become an oven in the sun. Some are prosecuted if they get a criminal record. ” A crime can be going with a minor relative without the corresponding exit permits.

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