(Trinidad Guardian) For about three years, Venezuelans have been battling a food crisis but when the oil-rich nation’s economy started to buckle with a recession, rampant inflation and a spiralling crime situation, their patience began to wear thin.
It’s a fight for survival as every day food is harder to find.
Basic food items like flour, rice, oil, toilet paper, toothpaste, along with medicines and baby formula are either out of supply or dwindling. This shortage is causing frustrated Venezuelans to fight for the little available on grocery shelves to feed their families.
The country, known for having far more oil wealth than Saudi Arabia, is now facing full-blown economic and political challenges that are creating severe social unrest among its estimated 31 million citizens.
But while Trinidad is a glimmer of hope for hundreds who manage to escape for a day or two to stock up on necessities and take them back to their families or for those who are in search of a better life, customs and excise and immigration officials are not letting up with many others.
Boats arrive on Mondays and Thursdays and leave on Tuesdays and Fridays and cost US$100 for a return trip. One boat can take up to 36 passengers.
A flight from Port-of-Spain to Caracas on the national carrier is around US$600.
Venezuelans can leave Tucupita, the capital city of the state of Delta Amacuro, and enter Trinidad through the Cedros sea port on the southwestern end of Trinidad, through the Chaguaramas port in the northwestern peninsula from Guiria in Sucre, or through the Piarco International Airport from Caracas.
In 2014, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro broke all diplomatic relations and froze economic ties with Panama.
Last September, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez arrived here to hold diplomatic talks aimed at boosting bilateral ties between the two countries.
Ahead of his brief state visit to Trinidad tomorrow, angry protesting Venezuelans have planned to welcome him with empty pots and pans at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s.
Maduro was here in early 2015 and held talks with former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
In an attempt to restore order in the chaotic and uneasy Latin American nation, Maduro declared a 60-day State of Emergency last week.
On Friday, the Sunday Guardian team visited the Cedros sea port where just around 10.30 am friends and relatives were huddling around to see others off on idling boats and pirogues.
In the trunks of cars and SUV’s were boxes of baby pampers, bales of toilet paper and boxes packed with food. Men, women and children were eating meals in styrofoam plates prepared by locals.
From a distance, the lines on the hill seemed long and the process longer, as hours later, around 1.30 pm, one boat left the jetty with a few people and their supplies.
Not every Venezuelan is a ‘thief’ or ‘prostitute’
A 26-year-old Venezuelan woman, who did not want to be identified, said she had been living in Icacos for nine years.
While she is unemployed, her Trini husband is a fisherman and provides for her and their daughters, ages three and one.
But she worries about her family back home, especially her ailing grandmother. She said she returns to Venezuela every six months or so but her family has found itself coming to Trinidad more often than normal.
Her father, grandmother, mother, younger sister and other relatives arrived on Thursday.
Surrounded by Spanish-speaking relatives under a tree close to an official immigration building, she said, “We are trying to get a better life, not only for we because maybe some of we come to work here to get a lil’ money from the country to buy food and medicine and things for home.
“You see in Venezuela right now they no have nothing. There is no tissue. They kill you or kidnap you. Why? The salary we get a month you cannot buy a pack of flour. When I say a pack of flour, is one kilo of flour, you know?”
A salary of $6,000 bolivars is equivalent to about TT$4,000. A kilo of beef, the woman explained, cost $4,000 bolivars, while a chicken, which has been scarce for months, costs $5,000 bolivars.
She questioned, “What about the babies and their milk? There is no formula. What would you do if in that position? You have to run away to look for something to give your child. You understand what I say?”
She said people were beating each other in the streets for food.
A troubling matter for her was that some Venezuelans were making a bad name for themselves when they arrive here.
If lucky enough, dozens will make it through Immigration and have their passports stamped but others aren’t as fortunate.
She said she understood there were challenges like Venezuelan women coming to work as prostitutes but said not all were the same.
She claimed that at times immigration officials branded all Venezuelans with the same bad intentions.
“If you come here, you will know everything. The same way Immigration treat we bad and they ask you all set of questions.
“For example, if you come to work they think you come to prostitute or something. I understand because so many people come here to do real bad things you know.
“What get me vex about we Venezuelan people is that you come here for a better life. There is a lot of thief here and that is bad for we but Immigration says is everybody. It is not right.”
TT$500 on grandmother’s medication
Another concern, even though she lives here, is the Venezuelans who are suffering from cancer and diabetes, like her 75-year-old grandmother.
Her “abuela” is in need of insulin, Lyrica, Glucerna, Ensure and glucophage.
“When she comes here we take her to a private doctor because she needs good health.”
The woman explained that she could not send items with anyone across to Venezuela. Apart from imposing taxes on items bought in Trinidad, she said they faced a barrage of questions.
“For me to carry things for my family in Venezuela, I have to travel there. You cannot send it with anybody because Guardia Nacional will impose a tax on items so we have to pay more than what we spend here in Trinidad.
“They don’t want us spend money in other countries. They don’t want people to know what is going on in we country.
“Why you buy that they will ask? That’s why people come here and try to make a better life.”
Told that Maduro will be here on Monday, she said, “No good at all!”
A supermarket owner in the area who had returned from Tucupita on Thursday after staying there for 16 days “to relieve stress” said Venezuelans were loving and kind people.
He brought back female friends to “experience” Trinidad but they were denied entry and were forced to sleep in a rocking boat and on the concrete jetty on Thursday night.
The reason for denial was that they had no TT money in their possession.
He said, “When I go to Tucupita, they treat me like a king.”
He said he was not even allowed to give her a muffin and stressed they were not criminals. They arrived on Thursday around 3 pm. He said there were no facilities for them to change or rest, except sit on a bench all day.
“They did not break a law so what is the reason?”
The man said on Thursday, the customs and excise and immigration officials turned away about 15 of them. “Why must they do people that?” He called on them to show some compassion.
Up to 2 pm on Friday, they were still being held waiting to be processed and sent back on a waiting boat.
“It is really sad, my heart went out to them. I will wait here until she comes down and goes on the boat,” he said.
The man said he found it strange that his friends were denied and believed it was “something new.”
Another man who was sitting nearby whose sons live in Venezuela said he could not see them last week. They came to celebrate his birthday. It was the first time they arrived here by boat.