Concern grows over ‘illicit’ trade to Venezuela

A brisk han­dover of pre­cious food and med­i­cine is tak­ing place at high seas near Sol­da­do Rock, off Ce­dros be­tween Venezue­lan op­er­a­tors and lo­cal fish­er­men.

Venezue­lan ves­sels barred from en­ter­ing the port are now col­lect­ing med­i­cine, and food sup­plies to take back to Venezuela.

The items are pur­chased by Venezue­lans who are now work­ing in T&T to pro­vide for their fam­i­lies. They hire lo­cal fish­er­men to trans­port the items for a fee.

The goods are packed on pirogues and sent at Sol­da­do Rock or at the off­shore Venezue­lan oil fa­cil­i­ties where the pre­cious com­modi­ties are loaded on­to wait­ing pirogues to be tak­en back to Venezuela.

A Venezue­lan na­tion­al who re­quest­ed anonymi­ty said they pay deal­ers up to US$2,000 to en­sure the med­i­cine and goods reach their loved ones in Venezuela. Trinida­di­an fish­er­men charge be­tween TT$200 to $500 to make the trip.

Mean­while, the Venezue­lan fer­ries con­tin­ue to be de­barred from dock­ing at the port.

Strin­gent visa re­quire­ments are need­ed to come to Trinidad but many Venezue­lans seek­ing a bet­ter life have no doc­u­ments. Get­ting a Venezue­lan pass­port is near im­pos­si­ble.

Some wealthy Venezue­lans pay as much as US$8,000 to get their doc­u­ments.

Ce­dros coun­cil­lor Shankar Teelucks­ingh said he was sus­pi­cious as to the rea­son why car­go ves­sels were be­ing al­lowed to come in while fer­ries are not al­lowed to en­ter.

“Who is ben­e­fit­ting from this arrange­ment? They are al­low­ing the scrap iron met­al to come in but they are not al­low­ing the fer­ries to dock. Venezue­lans are in des­per­ate need of food and med­i­cine and they are re­strict­ing them from en­ter­ing,” he said.

“I want to know what oth­er items are on these ves­sels be­sides scrap met­al. The car­go ves­sels are com­ing in at Ce­dros and Kings Wharf. We ask­ing the Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty to re­open the Ce­dros port to al­low the Venezue­lans to curb the il­le­gal en­try of Venezue­lans in many of our rur­al beach­es. They are still com­ing in. Eight was held in Los Iros beach on Thurs­day,” Teelucks­ingh said.

A source who re­quest­ed anonymi­ty said law en­force­ment of­fi­cers are charg­ing the Venezue­lan fer­ries up to US$2,000 to dock at the Kings Wharf port. Say­ing this was re­vealed by Venezue­lan op­er­a­tors, the source called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be done.

Con­tact­ed for com­ment, Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Stu­art Young said he was not aware of this. He did not re­spond to ques­tions about why ves­sels were be­ing al­lowed to dock while fer­ries were still de­barred at Ce­dros.

Asked if he was aware of the il­lic­it trans­ac­tions where Coast Guard of­fi­cers were tax­ing fer­ries US$2,000, Young said: “If you un­der­stand that you should tell the TTPS. I am not aware.”

Pres­i­dent of the Scrap Iron Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Al­lan Fer­gu­son could not be reached for com­ment.

- by Radhica De Silva

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