Guayaquil, Ecuador, February 9, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard killed a Venezuelan nine-month-old baby and injured his mother after opening fire on a boat carrying about 40 migrants.
In a statement, the Coast Guard claimed the crew acted in “self-defense” following alleged “aggressive maneuvers” by the migrant vessel. The fatal shooting took place on Saturday night when the boat was intercepted crossing into Trinidad and Tobago waters.
“The ramming effort by the suspect vessel which was larger than the [Coast Guard] boat caused the crew to fear for their lives and in self-defense, they fired at the engines in an attempt to bring it to a stop,” read the text signed by lieutenant Kerron Valere, the Coast Guard’s public affairs officer.
After stopping the ship, coastguard officers went on board and found a group of Venezuelan migrants “hidden” inside, including “one adult female holding an infant.” Both were bleeding from gunshot wounds and the child “was found unresponsive,” the communique underlined. The vessel was traveling along a common route for Venezuelans trying to reach Trinidad.
The Trinidadian authorities identified the deceased nine-month-old baby as Yaelvis Santoyo Sarabia and his mother as Darielvis Sarabia, who was later stabilized and taken to the Sangre Grande Hospital. Officials added that all the migrants on the boat will be processed “in accordance with immigration and health protocols.”
However, in an interview with The Washington Post, Sarabia’s sister-in-law Daicelis Salgado contradicted the official report. The wounded mother told relatives that the captain tried to turn around upon spotting the Coast Guard ship but it began following and shooting at them.
“She [Sarabia] was close to the engine. She said she felt something hit her in the chest and immediately looked down and saw the baby’s head broken,” explained Salgado, who lives in Trinidad.
On Monday, Caracas expressed “its deepest regret and rejection” of the shooting against the migrant boat carrying 43 people. In a communique, authorities urged Trinidad “to carry out an exhaustive investigation to clarify the facts surrounding this fatal incident.”
The Venezuelan government added that the Foreign Ministry will activate “diplomatic mechanisms” and “establish binational protocols” to address cross-border security between the neighboring countries.
For its part, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley regretted the incident and called for better cooperation with Venezuela’s National Guard.
“I expressed my deepest sympathy on my behalf and of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago concerning the unfortunate loss of a baby’s life,” Rowley said in a statement on Sunday night, following a conversation with Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez.
A number of United Nations (UN) agencies likewise denounced the tragic event, demanding “special attention, protection and safety” for Venezuelan women and children immigrants.
“Pathways for entry and stay should be consistent with international human rights law and humanitarian considerations, and include access to due process and procedural safeguards”, said the international agencies in a joint plea issued on Tuesday.
Some 28,500 Venezuelans have made the less than 100-kilometer journey to Trinidad and Tobago since 2015, according to estimates by the Regional Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants of Venezuela (R4V).
With legal ferry routes and flight connections between the nations halted in March 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic, the majority of Venezuelans have entered Trinidad through small, overcrowded ships with tragedies becoming more frequent in recent years. In December 2021, twenty people drowned attempting to reach the Caribbean island while another accident that same year left two people dead and several injured.
Port of Spain’s migration policy towards Venezuela has likewise been a contending point between the two countries, with Caracas denouncing heavy-handed measures which violate human rights.
The Trinidadian government claims to have deported at least 16,000 Venezuelans following new procedures “to protect its citizens.” In April 2021, a Trinidadian court sentenced 17 people to prison for entering illegally and in November another tribunal ordered to send back 16 Venezuelan children on the same boat they had arrived. The returning ship was adrift at sea for two days before the minors were rescued and granted a precautionary protection measure by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Around 2,000 Venezuelans have returned to their country citing inflated living costs after Trinidad reopened its borders on July 17, 2021, a local outlet reported. In February 2021, around 96 people traveled home through Caracas’ “Return to the Homeland” repatriation program.
According to UN figures, over five million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015 as an economic crisis gripped the South American nation. The population’s living conditions significantly worsened following Washington’s financial sanctions and full-fledged embargo imposed in 2017 and 2019, respectively.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Caracas.