(Trinidad Guardian) Desperately hungry but with their dignity well intact, boatloads of Venezuelans are continuing to show up along the shores of the southwestern peninsula, with the hope of building a better life in Trinidad.
Fleeing the terror of socialism, the foreigners come in search of basic goods such as baby diapers, toothpaste, toilet paper and milk.
Data obtained from the Cedros Coast Guard base show more than 38 foreigners come to Trinidad every day and 98 per cent of these return to their homeland.
However, Cedros residents say many more come to Trinidad through illegal channels despite frequent patrols by the T&T Coast Guard, the Air Guard, Customs and the Immigration department.
Since Venezuela’s inflation rate jumped to triple-digit figures and crime levels escalated because of widespread starvation, legal arrivals from Venezuela to Trinidad have also increased.
Between 2013 and 2014, arrivals grew from 15,008 to 21,052.
When the Guardian visited the Cedros port on Wednesday, more than 150 Venezuelans were seen waiting to board a ferry which works from Tucupita to Cedros twice per week.
Alberto, from Boca de Guerra, said he hoped to find a better life in Trinidad.
“I am going home after spending two months in Trinidad. I did some construction work while I was here but now my time is up so I have to go back home,” Alberto said.
Showing a photograph of his six-year-old daughter, Alberto said he did not even know whether his family had food. “Here in Trinidad you have everything, but in Venezuela we have nothing. Even if you have money you cannot buy food.
You have to wait in long lines and when you reach up they say it finish and you have to wait for another week to get,” Alberto said.
Shirley Ramnarine, who was born in Guyana and moved to Venezuela more than 32 years ago, said she too hoped to find a better life in Trinidad.
“I can take care of old people. I am not lazy, I can work,” she said, smiling. She added, “We cannot live in Venezuela anymore. We want to be in a place where we do not have to worry about food.”
She explained that she and her family took a trip to Panama hoping that they could start a new life there but the cost of obtaining legal documents was too high.
“It would cost us US$4,000 to get everything. Panama is a nice place but where we getting money to pay for the documents.
We want to stay in Trinidad but we want to do so legally so we don’t have to hide,” she said with a thick Guyanese accent.
Carl Ramdhanie, who recruits Venezuelans to work in Trinidad, said it was not true that Venezuelans were taking away jobs from locals.
“We have to help one another. We are hiring both locals and Venezuelans. They are really suffering because things are not good in Venezuela and as humans we have to help them,” Ramdhanie said.
A fisherman, who requested anonymity, said some Venezuelan women are being sexually exploited. “It is sad to see Trini men using these women as prostitutes.
They giving themselves cheap, as low as $100. Some are doing bad things just for a plateful of food,” the man said.
He added that Venezuelans are coming illegally through Granville, Fullarton and Icacos.
He said uthorities was giving permission to the foreigners to stay two and three months in T&T.
“They should be given a maximum stay of two weeks. Why should they get three months? They are coming here and working for the three months, making connections and then going back. They change all their money into US and take it back to Venezuela,” the source added.
He also said the foreigners were bringing stuff to sell including hammocks, clothes and jewelry.
“During Carnival they set up stalls right on the shore and some of them are now getting work in Tobago,” the source added.
Many residents from Cedros said they too have been extending assistance to the foreigners.
Shop owner Bert Beharry said on any given night, Venezuelans could be seen sitting on the benches at the coastline. “They occupy every public place you can think of.
They do not beg but if you give them something to eat, they are very grateful,” Beharry said.
He added that many of the Venezuelans who come to Cedros “do not stick around.”
“They come here with connections and agents from outside of Cedros pick them up.
Some of them do not have money to pay for lodging so we open our homes to them until they could find their way around,” Beharry said.
“You can see the desperation in their faces but they don’t milk you. They don’t misbehave and we have never had any report of any one of us being robbed by a Venezuelan.”
However, another resident Sherry Ali said she was concerned that the foreigners may bring diseases to locals. “We know that Venezuela has Zika, malaria and ChikV. Who is screening them when they come here? We already have a lot of people who do not have jobs here,” Ali said.
VESSELS INTERCEPTED DAILY—COAST GUARD
Contacted on Friday, Lt Commander of the T&T Coast Guard Kirk Jean-Baptiste said many vessels occupied by foreigners are intercepted on a daily basis.
“It is not only Venezuelans who come to Trinidad without proper papers.
People come from up the islands, too,” Jean-Baptiste said. He noted, however, that when the CG intercepts a vessel and people on board cannot produce their documents, they are taken to the Cedros port to be interrogated by Customs officers.
“We hand them over to Customs to process and they decide their legality,” Jean-Baptiste added. He also noted that there are Venezuelans who are legitimate traders who have been doing business in T&T years before the country started to experience economic collapse.