Venezuela crisis fuels exploitation in T&T

(Trinidad Guardian) The social, economic and political upheavals, hyperinflation, shortages of food, medicine and other supplies and US sanctions have forced many Venezuelans to flee their country and look for work in neighbouring countries, including T&T, to earn money and supplies to send back home to their families.

According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) report dated August 2017, there are an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans in T&T.

Doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and many highly qualified professionals who cannot find work in Venezuela are forced to take up menial jobs such as house cleaning, bar jobs and in the fast food industry.

In bars and nightclubs across the country young, pretty Latin women can be seen working as hostesses and bar tenders. In little Latin enclaves and Spanish Harlems throughout the country, many entertainment venues, clubs and bars now have a Latin Night.

Young, attractive Venezuelan women and girls are especially vulnerable to trafficking and being forced into prostitution.

The Sunday Guardian was told the harrowing plight of how four young Venezuelan girls were lured into a nightmare underbelly world of prostitution and exploitation by the owner of a local modelling agency.

Daniela, a Cuban national, said “When I finished work Carnival last year at a concert in the stadium, I went by a bar on the Avenue with a friend to wait until the traffic finished to drop me home.

“I saw four Venezuelan girls there, one was arguing with a Trinidadian man, the youngest girl, 19, was crying.

“I asked what happened, she explained that they came to Trinidad to do promotions for alcoholic drinks.

“The man her friend was arguing with was the owner of the modelling agency that hired them and he wanted the girls to go to bed with men for money and he kept all the money for himself.”

She said the girls first heard about the modelling agency via word of mouth—another Venezuelan girl previously worked for the agency owner and all she did was her legitimate promotion job.

Daniela said now because of the economic situation, poverty and turmoil in Venezuela, many unethical people wanted to prey and exploit the Venezuelan women and men also.

She said the modelling agency owner sent a letter to them and bought their airline tickets for them to come to Trinidad to work.

When they arrived at Piarco Airport, the man picked up the girls and carried them to his home in Belmont.

Daniela said at first the girls started their jobs as beverage promoters, but then the man was bringing clients for them to have sex with.

She said when the girls objected to being used as sex slaves, the man said they had to work off the money they owed him for airfare, room and board and expenses by sexually servicing his clients.

Daniela said the girls’ plane tickets cost $1,700 (TT) and he charged them US $1,500 each.

She said she exchanged phone numbers with the girls to assist them, and one night they escaped from the house. One of them injured her leg on one of the spikes on the wall climbing over.

Daniela said the man was well connected and he managed to intercept two of the girls who were making their way to the airport. With the help of a friend, she managed to meet the other two girls and brought them to her home in Arima.

They spent two days in the same clothes as they left everything they had behind in the man’s house and she provided them with clothes.

Daniela could not say if the man was a hardcore human trafficker or pimp, or just saw an opportunity to make money off the girls with sleazy clients.

She said the man kept calling them asking to negotiate for their clothes and he wanted to know their location.

Daniela said accompanied by a friend, she went with the girls to pick up their belongings at a neutral location in Westmoorings, but the man not only brought their suitcases, he also brought a client he wanted the youngest girl to go with but she refused. Daniela said the man was well connected, didn’t want trouble and thought the issue would die down, not suspecting that the girls would go to the police.

After one week, Daniela carried the girls to the police station in Port-of-Spain, where they made a report against the modelling agency owner.

The man was charged under the Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011 and was sent to jail in June last year. She said he managed to secure bail and was out.

Daniela said all four girls were safely back in Venezuela. The case, she said, will not collapse because the Government can bring them back to testify.

She said what was unsettling, however, was that she saw the man with three new Venezuelan girls in the lobby of a hotel in the city soliciting high roller clients in December.

The clients take the young girls to rooms in the hotel.

When the Sunday Guardian called one of the managers about the activities at the hotel and how they intended to treat with it, she said they were unaware of that.

Over the years, nationals of Venezuela, Colombia, Guyana and the Dominican Republic have been trafficked specifically for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and labour exploitation.

The women, a report in 2015 stated, were brought into the country by a recruiter who sold them to a local trafficker for $1,500.

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