Last week a Cedros fisherman, Marvin Farria, reported that he was fired upon by the Venezuelan Guardia Nacional while fishing in local waters and our “ghost guard” was not in sight.
His complaints to the Cedros base fell on deaf ears as they claimed that they did not have a boat.
Councillor for Cedros, Shankar Teelucksingh stated that between six to seven fishermen were held by Venezuelans within the past week and had to pay $15,000 each to secure their release.
In April of this year, Venezuela’s Guardia Nacional entered the territorial waters of Trinidad and Tobago off of Cedros and seized three of our fishermen who were incarcerated in Venezuela for allegedly fishing in Venezuelan waters. After this incident, even workers at Trinmar’s offshore installations expressed fear for their safety and refused to work.
Though our waters were invaded, the Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs did not forward a diplomatic note to the Venezuelan Government.
“The number of reported incidents where our citizens are being attacked and detained by Venezuelans with our Coast Guard nowhere to be seen is becoming alarming. The $385 million in expenditure for the TTCG in this year’s budget allocation must be justified by the Minister of National Security,” says Charles. “Why has money been allocated for the facility at Hart’s Cut and the Chaguaramas heliport but nothing for the base located in Cedros?”
The Naparima MP notes that he has visited Cedros on many occasions and has never seen a TTCG vessel at base in Cedros or between the waters linking the Venezuelan and T&T coasts. Cedros fishermen claim for years the La Guardia Nacional have been arresting them in T&T waters and holding them for ransom for food and US dollars.
Given reports that over 200 Venezuelans along with drugs and ammunition enter T&T at unauthorized ports weekly along the South East peninsula, how many of our Coast Guard vessels are assigned to patrol the South East coast and is there a 24/7 schedule of patrols to lock down our borders? Up to December last year, it was estimated that over 40,000 Venezuelans were living in T&T illegally coming through the ports of Cedros and Kings Wharf, San Fernando.
In an interview in May, a source at the Organised Crime and Narcotics Unit said the influx of Venezuelans into T&T has contributed to a rampant increase of illegal items in T&T. It also said that the radar system which keeps 24-hour surveillance on the coast is so outdated that it is difficult to pinpoint the presence of smugglers.
A former senior officer with the Customs and Excise department said that an important station like Cedros’ needs to have manpower on the spot otherwise it doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the influx of Venezuelans and Colombians as well as the illegal goods that are smuggled daily. He added, “Lots of money is spent on national security and the basic manpower constraints are not addressed.”
Furthermore, is the single Coast Guard vessel located in Tobago enough to service the 18 illegal entry points located around the island as indicated by the Prime Minister? If this vessel is under repairs, as was the case in January of this year, a vessel from Trinidad will occasionally patrol Tobago’s waters, on visits that are usually unannounced, and that Coast Guard sailors stationed in Tobago remain desk-bound and in no position assist anyone on the island.
Venezuela’s circumstance and its potential impact on T&T has been known for some time now. Why is it that our borders still remain without effective, visible offshore Coast Guard patrols?
It is time that the Minister of National Security focuses on this issue before it becomes a crisis.
If we are to succeed in our war on crime then our Coast Guard must become more visible and active in locking down our borders thereby reducing the inflow of arms, ammunition, drugs and illegal immigrants.
MP for Naparima