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Venezuelans cautious entering Cedros, Icacos

Published: 
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Coast Guard locks down south-western peninsula
Flashback: Customs and police officers check the documents of these men, who are foreigners, on Kings Wharf, San Fernando, last November. Foreigners come to the wharf to do trade on a regular basis.

Very few Venezuelans are taking the chance to enter T&T illegally through unofficial ports of entry as the coastline along the South Western peninsula is being manned around-the-clock by a T&T Coast Guard vessel.

The vessel, according to villagers at Icacos, has been anchored off the coast for the past two months.

Villagers at Cedros also confirmed that and said that on a sunny and clear day one could see the anchored vessel. It is alleged that a helicopter and an interceptor “work alongside” the Coast Guard vessel.

“We see them patrolling in the air and over the ocean between Venezuela and here (T&T),” a villager (who wished anonymity) from Cedros said.

During a trip to the peninsula last Friday, some Icacos fishermen, who all wished to be unidentified, alleged that they were harassed by Coast Guard officials.

“Because of this we are unable to ply our trade properly. We cannot fish and right now we are all suffering as a result,” one fisherman, aged 54, said.

His son claimed that things were so hard that he could not take care of his children and feared that he would be sent to the courts for child maintenance.

However, T&T Guardian understands that some Venezuelan nationals take the chance to “bribe” T&T fishermen by handing over drugs, guns and ammunition in exchange to be brought into T&T through illegal ports of entry.

Some fishermen even take the Venezuelan women as wives and have them living with them here in T&T.

It is said that since the heightened coastal patrols along the coastline by the Coast Guard, this kind of trade/ human trafficking is becoming more and more difficult.

“There are one or two that still slip in. Just this morning (Friday) I saw two Venezuelans coming aboard a fisherman’s pirogue,” another Icacos villager said.

Since the crippling of the Venezuelan economy, especially in recent times, even food and water have become scarce necessities.

Scores of Venezuelans, both men and women, sacrifice 60,000 Venezuela bolivars, which is equivalent to just under US$100, to travel to T&T via a passenger ferry from Venezuela. An average of 350 Venezuelan nationals, according to unnamed Immigration sources, arrive on a monthly basis at the port in Cedros.

However, that same trip from T&T to Venezuela would cost TT$1,200 but very few Trinbagonians actually make that trip, according to Immigration sources.

Some days, according to 58-year-old Cedros villager, Mohan Seraj, scores of Venezuelans line the street and erect tables where they sell clothes, footwear, jewelry, ornaments and hammocks. Their prices start from TT$100.

During the visit to Cedros on Friday, the T&T Guardian met with two Venezuelan women who were selling items that they brought from Venezuela.

When asked to comment why they came here to sell, both Spanish-speaking women declined to answer. However, a close friend of theirs said that because of the economic crisis Venezuelans come here on a daily basis to trade their goods for money in an attempt to better their livelihood back in Venezuela.

“Some of them come for a day or two. Some of them stay for months. Sometimes they rent a room from someone here for TT$250 a day or some villagers here in Cedros feel very sorry for them and keep them in their homes for free. Some of them even spread out to other areas in Trinidad and stay permanently, most of the times illegally,” one Cedros villager said.

“They come to sell either here in Cedros or Point Fortin or as far as San Fernando. What can you really do? They are desperate and looking for a means to survive. You can’t blame them for trying,” the villager added.

When asked how the Coast Guard battled illegal entry by Venezuelans and how many of them have been taken into custody or sent back upon interception out in the high seas when they attempt to come to T&T to trade drugs, arms and ammunition for food and baby stuff, public affairs officer Lt Commander Kirk Jean-Baptiste would only say:

“I am failing to understand where the concerns are because Venezuelans have been trading by sea for decades upon decades, in droves before you and I were born and it is continuing. That trade does not end. I suppose now that there is an economic situation and they have probably intensified their trade because they need to eat but there is nothing strange about those movements in terms of them trading and going back.”

An email listing several questions sent to Venezuelan Ambassador Coromoto Godoy-Calderon last week went unanswered. Several calls to the Venezuelan Embassy in an attempt to speak with her were unsuccessful as she was said to be not in office.

Arrival statistics

According to data received, arrivals from Venezuela jumped by 6,000 between 2013 and 2014, from 15,008 to 21,052.

In 2015, the Governments of Venezuela and T&T agreed to expand their strategic and co-operative partnership in several areas.

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro reportedly said both nations will set in motion co-operation agreements in energy, trade, tourism, security, education and culture.

US Travel Advisory to Venezuela

Armed robberies take place throughout the country, including areas generally presumed safe and frequented by tourists. Street crime can occur anywhere and at any time of the day or night. Even upscale residential areas are not immune from street crime and home invasion robberies.

While visiting Venezuela, US citizens are encouraged to maintain a low profile and carry as little US currency as possible. Avoid conspicuous displays of wealth, such as wearing expensive watches or jewelry, and avoid having cellphones or other electronic devices visible to avoid becoming a target of crime.

Incidents of piracy off the coast of Venezuela remain a concern. Yachties should note that anchoring offshore is not considered safe. While the majority of reports involve local fisherman, foreigners have been targeted. Some of these attacks have been especially violent and resulted in the deaths of the passengers aboard the ships.

Marinas, including those in Puerto La Cruz and Margarita Island (Porlamar), provide only minimal security, and US citizens should exercise a heightened level of caution in Venezuelan waters.