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TT | Dec 15, 2020

T&T PM’s Office under fire for scathing Facebook post dismissing drowned Venezuelan migrants

Gavin Riley

Gavin Riley / Our Today

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Reading Time: 5 minutes
Photo courtesy of El Diario.com

The Trinidadian Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) is facing mounting criticism for a Tuesday (December 15) Facebook post that seemed to dismiss reports of Venezuelan migrants who drowned en route to the twin-island republic in the Gulf of Paria.

The post, which confusingly began with a ‘tribute’ to Ashanti Riley, the 18-year-old national who was found dead after being reported missing, then turned to attack so-called ‘imps of misinformation’.

“To Ashanti’s family and all other members of families who experience this unspeakable hurt, I share your pain. Our grief comes in double doses. As we bury our dead, we continue to receive updated news of the tragic loss of many lives off the coast in Venezuela,” the OPM Facebook post read.

The post then claimed that the Organisation of American States (OAS), members of the opposition United National Congress (UNC) as well as “other Trinidadian and Venezuelan imps and agents are lying in the face of the available information and evidence”.

Official Facebook banner for the Office of the Prime Minister, Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo: Facebook @OPMTT)

“These imps have now been pushing a narrative that these illegals and their criminal traffickers reached Trinidad but our authorities here turned them back and that is why they drowned in waters off the coast of Venezuela at Guiria. This is their lie!” the post argued.

The Trinbagonian OPM, alluding to a Sunday statement, further noted that the local coast guard “never saw or interacted with these traffickers and their cargo”.

In the December 13 statement, the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard said it received word from Venezuelan officials of the recovery of 11 bodies close to the coastal city of Guiria. According to the preliminary information provided by Venezuela, the boat, which reportedly carried more than 20 passengers, left Guiria on the Sunday prior and had not been seen or heard from since.

Select vessels from the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard patrol fleet. (Photo: Damen Shipyards)

“Checks have indicated that the Coast Guard has not intercepted any vessels coming from Guiria on December 6, or any time thereafter. At this time, the Coast Guard’s Rescue Coordination Center has dispatched assets as part of a joint search effort with Venezuelan authorities,” the TT coast guard contended.

However, several Venezuelan and international reports of the Guiria incident detail multiple deaths and allege Trinidad playing a role in turning back the boat before it capsised in the Gulf of Paria.

It may seem like a safe, two-hour journey across the Gulf of Paria, but Venezuelan boats have frequently encourntered difficulty trying to get to Trinidad. The coastal city of Guiria is highlighted in red. (Photo: Google Maps)

The Trinidadian OPM, in denying these allegations, also urged the ‘nefarious interests’ to stop encouraging Venezuelan migrants from making the dangerous trip to the twin-island republic.

“The law will take its course in every instance in Trinidad and Tobago but in the meantime we advise all, including local do-gooders and the international press and agencies, to cease and desist from encouraging and exposing ordinary Venezuelans to risk their lives in the waters between our two nations,” the government agency remarked.

“It might appear to some to be a short journey but these waters are very dangerous and they should not risk their lives nor their children’s future to come to Trinidad and Tobago, illegally, where currently the borders are closed in a pandemic and the only legal way to enter is by way of an application through a visa,” the OPM post added.

Faced with dwindling options, international sanctions and an imploding economy, many Venezuelans, line up to leave the once oil-rich country. Pictured here, people await the next flight out of Venezuela at the Maiquetía Airport in downtown Caracas. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The post continued by noting Trinidad’s gracious nature in allowing thousands of Venezuelans to resettle in the Caribbean country, before reminding readers this was done as a kindness and not due to international aid.

“Currently we, the people of the tiny nation of Trinidad and Tobago, located in the mouth of the Orinoco River of Venezuela, are hosting just over 16,000 registered Venezuelan migrants who are protected in neighbourliness, under the authority of the Government and the laws of Trinidad and Tobago,” the office of the prime minister said.

“We, the Government, receive no help from any agency to look after these migrants, many of whom are relatively recent arrivals who entered or were trafficked to our country illegally, nonetheless, last year, in empathy, we registered them all and allow them to try and make an honest living within our borders,” the agency posited further.

The Facebook post, deleted two hours later, has triggered backlash as commenters noted the callous, borderline insensitive tone of its contents. Others slammed the language of the post and questioned why anyone in the Keith Rowley-led administration would approve such caustic rhetoric.

Schoolchildren on the streets of Port of Spain, Trinidad. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have come to the Caribbean nation since their home country’s economic and humanitarian crisis began to deepen in recent years. (Photo: NPR.org)

“How dare you use a humanitarian crisis and the death of several migrants like this? To make an unrelated point with disgusting language?” one Trinidadian woman remarked.

“Please review the person or procedure in which posts on this account are put up. This is a highly inappropriate and callous tone for such a matter. It wreaks of high minded pettiness, and I am sure was NEVER seen by the Prime Minister,” another woman commented.

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