At least 14 Venezuelans drowned this weekend attempting to escape the socialist country on a raft off the eastern state of Sucre, local authorities confirmed Monday.
Venezuelan coast guards found 11 people dead Saturday around seven miles off the coast. Three others washed up on the beach Sunday. Their bodies were later transferred to the morgue of the Central Hospital of Cumaná in the state capital of Sucre.
The victims are believed to have been trying to reach Trinidad and Tobago, presumably as an escape from the economic and humanitarian crisis in their homeland. In a statement confirming the tragic events, the Venezuelan regime attempted to shift the blame onto criminal gangs.
“All the security forces are in the task of investigating the events, so we do not rule out that there is a connection with criminal gangs in the area,” the statement read. “Coordination and links are maintained between the Venezuelan Government and the military authorities of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, supporting with their Coast Guard command and Search Mission by sea, as well as air support.”
The Trinidadian Coast Guard said in its own statement posted on Facebook that on Saturday “it received information from the Venezuelan authorities indicating 11 bodies had been recovered previously from the waters near the Venezuelan coastal town of Güiria.”
“Preliminary information suggests that a boat had left Güiria on December 6 with more than 20 people on board,” it added. “These people have not been seen or heard from since that day.”
The commissioner of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States for the crisis of Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees, David Smolansky, indicated the only way to prevent future tragedies from happening is the removal of the Maduro dictatorship.
“They drown in one country and their doors are closed to another,” he wrote. “Venezuelans cannot continue to drown, people will stop trying to flee when there is no tyranny.”
“A los náufragos de Güiria no los mató el mar, huían de un país que los ahogaba”, conmovedor relato de @WillyMcKey.
Se ahogan en un país y les cierran las puertas en otro.
No se pueden seguir ahogando venezolanos, la gente dejará de caminar y naufragar cuando no haya tiranía. https://t.co/u3lC4HxM9G
— David Smolansky (@dsmolansky) December 13, 2020
The tragedy took place less than a month after Trinidadian authorities expelled 16 children from the island after arriving without permits. Having been sent back into the water, the children found themselves stranded at sea for more than 24 hours before eventually returning to the island’s shores after an international search effort was launched.
Reports of shipwrecked Venezuelans have become increasingly common over the past decade as millions of people have fled the country in search of work and humanitarian assistance. Last year, the International Organization for Migration revealed that at least 80 Venezuelans have died or disappeared in the Caribbean Sea in a two-month span attempting to reach various destinations including Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, and Aruba.
According to the testimony of survivors and relatives of the victims, the journeys are typically organized by human traffickers taking advantage of people’s desperation while charging exorbitant fees in exchange for boat trips that are usually overcrowded and highly risky in their nature.