Letter: The escalating crisis of our Venezuelan border. Who is responsible?

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Dear Sir:

Today there is now a free flow of persons, creatures, and contraband through the Venezuelan-Trinidadian marine border. Seasoned seamen know that every day the risks are increasing.

TT$30 billion have been spent in the last four years by the ministry of national security, which is directly responsible for our Coast Guard, who have spent hundreds of millions on vessels. Despite the resources at hand, the Coast Guard continues to fail to manage our borders or protect our seafarers. Where is the accountability for the expenditure of the Coast Guard?

At the last Joint Select Committee meeting on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity, the ag. chief immigration officer of the Immigration Division of the ministry of national security indicated that 150 – 200 Venezuelans were recorded entering our country on a daily basis, with 90% of these persons entering illegally. How many more are entering without the knowledge of the Immigration Division or the Coast Guard?

The inhumanities and violations of the ‘Guardia Nacional’ and Venezuelan pirates continue to plague our sea. There are violations on both sides of the border. The enrichment incentive outweighs the limited risks of smuggling or robbing in unregulated lawless seas.

The Bloomberg Businessweek’s report dated January 30, 2018, entitled “Venezuelan Pirates Rule the Most Lawless Market on Earth” highlighted this crisis for all to see. This report noted the absence of Coast Guard vessels at the station in Cedros, yet on November 20, 2017, a high-powered Coast Guard vessel sank at the jetty of the Scarborough Port while ten Coast Guard officers watched on (instead of simply bailing the water out). FFOS has publicly asked “what are the entry requirements for the Coast Guard? What are the management training skills of Officers?”

Minister Franklyn Khan stated it clearly at the TTEITI Conference in the Marriot last month when he said that “For the first time in history a spill crossed an international boundary and went into Guiria, Venezuela. Luckily, as we speak, we have an extremely cordial relationship with the government of Venezuela, and it is largely because of that that this did not blow up into an international fiasco” (Tank70 ruptured on April 23, 2017). Could this same “extremely cordial relationship” be called upon now to help to bring law and order to our sea and land? Shouldn’t our Honourable Cabinet and our ministry of foreign affairs not be negotiating a treaty to permit friendly fishing on both sides of the borders?

The horror stories of kidnapping and being kept in pig farms while ransoms are negotiated and the on-going lawlessness and robbery at sea is a direct reflection of our country’s ongoing failure to manage its borders and its diplomatic relationship with our bankrupt neighbour. While Trinidadian fishermen are punished for their encroachment in the international water, Venezuela fishermen are left to run asunder.

Our citizens are being captured illegally, detained, violated, abused, buggered, ransomed and forced to bribe the ‘Guardia Nacional’. How many more of our innocent fishers must die before the government lays the decades old Draft Fisheries Management Bill in Parliament? This Bill should have critical security management and regulatory mechanisms to complement a national security management agenda, but does it?

The hourly flow of crack, cocaine, guns, animals and human cargo will escalate as Venezuela continues to plunge. Our prime minister must protect our seafarers and our jobs, safeguard our maritime boundaries and ensure that the lawlessness, disorder, corruption and crime of a hopeless and starving neighbour does not continue to sail unencumbered into our waters and territory? Continue as we are, and our problems likewise will be a mirror of a failed Venezuela.

Gary Aboud
Corporate Secretary – FFOS

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