Piracy is severely affecting the illegal trade of wildlife between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.
During an exclusive interview with Guardian Media, a contraband trader, who requested anonymity, said this has triggered a shortage of tropical birds such as bullfinches, picoplats, parrots and macaws.
Traders also bring in monkeys, agouti, lappe, tattoo, deer, wild hog, iguana, horses, goats, sheep, cattle, provisions, honey and various types of provision.
Trained bullfinches and picoplats can be sold for up to $25,000 per bird in T&T, the source said.
But while the animal trade is declining, the trading of guns, drugs, marijuana, honey and women continues to flourish under the eyes of the Venezuela’s Guardia Nacional, T&T Coast Guard and pirate gangs which operate out of Guiria and Tucupita, Venezuela, two of the nearest towns in the South American country.
The trader said one of the biggest gangs of pirates operates from the Caño Manamo River in Venezuela. The Caño Manamo is a tributary of the Orinoco River.
It branches northwards from the main channel of the Orinoco to the western edge of the Orinoco Delta, before emptying into the Gulf of Paria. Tucupita, the capital of Delta Amacuro state, is located on the east bank (right) of the Caño Manamo.
The source claimed the river-based pirates were responsible for the kidnapping of Lynton Manohar, 35, Jason O’Brian, 36, Jerry O’Brian, 38, Jagdesh Jude Jaikaran, 16, Brandon Arjoon, 28, and Ricky Rambharose, 35, of Morne Diablo who were kidnapped on January 26 as well as two other fishermen Kenrick Morgan, 17, and his cousin Kendell Singh, 24, who were kidnapped while fishing in the sea off Gran Chemin, Moruga on January 12. All of the fishermen have since returned home.
The gang, whose leader is well known by Interpol and the Guardia Nacional, have recruited large numbers of desperate, hungry Venezuelans who are forced into banditry because of Venezuela’s dire socio-economic crisis.
“The leader has young, hungry Venezuelans under his charge who earn their livelihoods by charging a tax to anyone who enters their river space. They pay a bribe to the Guardia Nacional who allows them to charge this tax,” the source said.
Despite the threats, many fishermen from Trinidad continue to risk their lives to conduct fish and shrimp trades in Venezuela.
“The Manamo River, in particular, is filled with fish and shrimp which use it as a spawning ground. Venezuelans are paid by local fishermen to shrimp and fish in the river in exchange for flour, rice, diapers, baby milk and other commodities,” the source added.
However, since the pirate gangs took control, these Trinidadian fishermen are finding it difficult to bring in their illegal cargo as they were afraid of the pirates.
“Some of them are now looking to link up with the head of the pirate gangs so that they could do business. This illegal operation has caused a dent in the wildlife trade coming into Trinidad,” the source said.
“They think the only way to do business now is to make links with this criminal group in Venezuela who can secure their travel across the seas because these groups are controlling Venezuela’s Guardia Nacional,” he added.
Last week during an interview in Cedros, Trinidad ferry operator Anthony Joseph said he has been forced to abandon his ferry operations because of the pirates.
During a recent encounter, Joseph said while in Venezuelan waters he received a call from the Guardia Nacional warning him not to enter the Tucupita river because the pirates were waiting for him.
Joseph said he was forced to stop at Capure, Venezuela about 40 kilometres away from Cedros and send his documents with a worker to be stamped by the Venezuelan authorities.
Another fisherman Terry Assong, whose nephew Marvin Farrier was robbed by pirates last week, said many people have stopped going to sea because of the pirates.
“We’re all scared of them now. They have weapons and power. We don’t have anything,” Assong said.