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CAL to airlift Trinis from Venezuela

Govt prepares evacuation plan...
Monday, February 24, 2014
A group of masked men run for cover after riot police launched tear gas in Caracas, Venezuela. In a pattern that has been seen in past demonstrations about 1,000 stragglers erected barricades of trash and other debris and threw rocks and bottles at police and National Guardsmen. The troops responded with volleys of tear gas to prevent the students from reaching a highway and blocking traffic. AP Photo

The Government is  preparing a contingency plan involving Caribbean Airlines to evacuate any T&T nationals and staff of this country’s Caracas Embassy out of strife-torn Venezuela if the situation there deteriorates further, acting Foreign Affairs Minister Roodal Moonilal said yesterday. 



Moonilal told the T&T Guardian he has been talking with National Security Minister Gary Griffith and Finance Minister Larry Howai, the line minister for CAL, about the plan, in case violence in Venezuela—going on for more than a week—becomes worse.


Clashes have been taking place since February 12 between students and state agencies, as well as between supporters of  Venezuelan opposition groups and those of President Nicholas Maduro. Most recently, paratroopers were dispatched to the state of Tachira where violent student protests were reported. 



Late Saturday T&T’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement assuring that all of the six T&T staff at its Caracas embassy were safe and arrangements were being made to secure them. It also said the embassy’s hours were being reduced to deal with the  situation in Caracas and an evacuation plan was on the table. Moonilal said yesterday: “We’re monitoring the situation very closely via Ambassador Anthony Edghill in Caracas. I’m getting reports every  12 hours.


“After I received a report on the situation last Saturday I talked with Ministers Griffith and Howai  to have plans in place to evacuate T&T nationals including our embassy staff, via CAL in  case the situation  worsens.” 



He said the Government is now checking to see if there were any T&T holidaymakers or businessmen visiting Venezuela. He said he didn’t think the situation was bad enough for the Government to tell them to cut short their plans and leave Venezuela. However, Moonilal  urged them to monitor the situation carefully and see if they wanted to return home. He advised them to exercise  precautions while in that country.


Moonilal said  the situation  in Venezuela—seven miles across the Gulf  from T&T—was getting difficult and the Government hoped Venezuelan authorities and the people would resolve their matters. He said emergency airlift would depend on the number of people to be returned home and availability of  flights. An assessment of those in need would be done if the situation required evacuation. 



He said acting Prime Minister Errol McLeod has been briefed on the situation and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who left for China on Friday, was also being informed. Yesterday, Ambassador Edghill told the T&T Guardian the embassy had sought logistical support from the Government but “we also have an evacuation plan and we’re monitoring to see if certain things are triggered and if so we’ll respond.”


Edghill, who has been moving around  various areas to ascertain the situation, said protests continue in pockets at cities all over Venezuela. The death toll by yesterday was around ten, he added. Several wounded in earlier clashes have died. Deaths included a student who was “clotheslined” and  almost decapitated when his motorcycle hit  a clothesline strung  across a street and his throat was slit by the line. 


Yesterday’s protests went off relatively calmly  however, Edghill said. Over the weekend, he said, several pro-Maduro demonstrations were mounted, first by  female supporters,  followed by senior citizens. 


Edghill said embassy staff had been keeping tabs on  T&T nationals working with foreign firms in Venezuela to ensure their safety. This included a number of T&T nationals contracted with Spanish energy company Repsol oil company. He said they are safe and some had ventured out to hot-spot areas to see what was taking place He said there were also 14 T&T nationals working with a German company west of Caracas. “They too have been in contact with the T&T embassy,” he added.


Edghill said  some T&T nationals were  considering leaving Venezuela, but others were staying. Further protests continue this week, he said. Last week, Venezuelan Ambassador to T&T Coromoto Godoy accused extremist right wingers in Venezuela of an attempted coup and of several international media of encouraging it. She also accused private Venezuelan media of manipulating information.


Various TT-based  Venezuelans, including Ida Hernandez, Marta Reyes, Yesenia Gonzales and others deny that, blaming Venezuelan authorities. Hernandez, who  has been resident in T&T for more than 20 years, said she  returned to Caracas  recently to carry supplies for her family including her aunt, who is 100 years old and her uncle, 106.


She said: ”There’s no food, no milk, no toilet paper. They have to line up  two hours for one migraine tablet, it’s $5,000 for a car battery and the line for that is miles long.  People are throwing tear-gas and protesting all over. I had to take a boat, bus and ferry to reach Caracas—flights are scarce.” Gonzales said Venezuela is in civil war and people would soon demand new presidential elections.


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