A secret agricultural plot in Los Iros, where five Venezuelan women are being as sex slaves, has been uncovered by villagers who are now calling on law enforcement authorities to investigate. Villagers say they have made several reports to police but the women still have not been rescued.
Many residents in the area told Guardian Media they believe alleged police involvement in this well organised human trafficking has prevented other law enforcement officers from acting. The women being held hostage in the camps came to Trinidad and Tobago last week.
In this Los Iros case, a villager who requested anonymity said the women are “being pimped out for $400 and $500 an hour.” Two people who tipped off the Erin police were severely beaten last week, the villager said, raising their fears that police officers were involved in the ring.
Traversing through a thoroughfare of agricultural access roads, private roads and forest tracks used frequently by Venezuelans, Guardian Media was given an account of how the human trafficking operates in this area.
“There are times when nobody can come down here because of what is going on. Before they were bringing in guns and drugs but more so now they are bringing in Venezuelan women,” the source said.
“They walk up this hillside and hide in houses until they are picked up. Some of the residents from around here know exactly what is going on. The police know who they are. Everyone is involved in this operation so we have to be careful who we talk with.”
Senior Superintendent of the South Western Division Deonarine Basdeo, when contacted by Guardian Media about the allegations of police involvement, said, “This is the first time we are hearing of this. Nobody has come to make any report but now that we have the information we will be investigating. I intend to send a task force to investigate. Yes, there is a lot of agricultural camps there and we will check it.”
A three-month Sunday Guardian investigation by GML journalists Mark Bassant and Hema Ramkissoon has already uncovered an illicit sex trade spanning the country, from the remote port of Cedros to high-rises in Westmoorings, where sex slaves as young as 15 years-old are held against their will, locked in rooms and forced to have sex with men. Other young women are lured to this country on the premise of a job by human traffickers and are later forced into sex slavery until they work off the debt for their journey.
A source who requested anonymity said since the Ministry of National Security imposed a ban on the Venezuelan ferries which transport Venezuelans legally to Trinidad, more people have been coming in illegally under the eyes of the law enforcement officers involved in the illicit activity. Some of the areas where they are entering include RE Road, Jeffers Drive, Anduez Road, Beach Camp Road, and Erin Beach. Further along the coasts, Venezuelans are also coming in through Morne Diablo and Moruga.
The women were picked up at a beach off Anduez Trace, Los Iros and kept in the camp.
However, although the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, Customs and Excise Division, Immigration and police have been doing patrols in many of these areas, no searches are being done on the abandoned houses and farmers’ camps which stand on the coasts, particularly in Los Iros and Erin.
Guardian Media visited the area known as Cocal mangroves in Los Iros yesterday in an attempt to find the camp where the women were being held.
“Men are going to the camp and raping the women. The last I heard was two women were still being kept at the camp. This is a secret and many people do not want to talk about it. Someone could end up dead if this is not handled carefully,” said the source.
Another resident who lives near the Los Iros Beach said on Saturday night four boats dropped off about three dozen Venezuelans, most of them women. There was one child who appeared to be about eight years old.
A Venezuelan source said some of the women who are brought into Trinidad for prostitution are also kidnapped in their homeland.
“Things are so bad there that Trinidadian kidnappers with links to criminal gangs are kidnapping girls, some of whom are as young as 13 years. They are told that they are owing $20,000 as a fee to get to Trinidad and they have to work to pay back their debts,” the source said.
Several prominent sports bars and guest houses in South Trinidad are used to prostitute the women and the owners pocket lucrative sums garnered from this prostitution ring.
Since 2014, it is estimated that over five million people have fled horrific living conditions in Venezuela. Food and medicinal shortages have forced people to leave behind all their possessions and flee to other countries in search of a better life. An estimated 60,000 Venezuelans have fled to Trinidad and Tobago and many are hoping to be officially registered on May 31 in Government’s amnesty programme so they can get a chance to work.
Recent incidents involving Venezuelan women:
October 2018: A 19-year-old Venezuelan woman is beaten in a house in Debe and her beating posted on social media by her alleged perpetrator. A Diego Martin man was later charged with kidnapping and wounding with intent.
February 9, 2019: 19 Venezuelan women rescued from homes in Westmoorings and Stir Fry restaurant Woodbrook after police smash human trafficking ring and later arrest a Chinese man and Venezuelan woman who were slapped with 43 sex charges.
February 12, 2019: Two men, including a police officer, are arrested and charged with kidnapping and assaulting a 24-year-old Venezuelan woman in Diego Martin after she had previously escaped from them.
April 12, 2019: Four Venezuelan women were rescued from a ‘fake police’ station in Diego Martin after they had been abducted by three men and later raped. The men were later charged with false imprisonment and having sexual intercourse with two of the women.