Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

Renuka Singh

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday apologised for a mix-up on his social media page that lewd to him releasing a statement linking the murder of teenager Ashanti Riley to the drowned Venezuelan migrants. However, he is not apologising for the sentiment behind his remarks on the Venezuelan migrant issue.

Yesterday, Rowley posted the two disparate thoughts in a single post that blasted the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Opposition and naysaying Trinidadians and Venezuelans.

But despite an apology after the post drew criticism on social media and a decision to subsequently post separate comments on the issues, Rowley said he was standing by the sentiment expressed on the Venezuelan migrant matter.

“They lie on my country, I kick them in the balls,” he said in a text message response which included an emoji of a football, after Guardian Media sought further clarification on his post yesterday.

“There was a mix-up caused by me in the posting of the two separate issues. I take full responsibility and apologised for the mix-up and its effects.”

The post began by expressing remorse to teenage murder victim Riley’s family but then segued into the Venezuelans who lost their lives at sea while trying to cross the border to Trinidad and Tobago.

“To Ashanti’s family and all other members of families who experience this unspeakable hurt, I share your pain. Our grief comes in double doses. As we bury our dead, we continue to receive updated news of the tragic loss of many lives off the coast in Venezuela,” Rowley said in the post.

“But do you see agents of the OAS, our Opposition and other Trinidadian and Venezuelan imps and agents are lying in the face of the available information and evidence that we have? These imps have now been pushing a narrative that these illegals and their criminal traffickers reached Trinidad but our authorities here turned them back and that is why they drowned in waters off the coast of Venezuela at Guiria. This is their lie!”

Rowley denied that the T&T Coast Guard met with this group of migrants.

“Our Coast Guard never saw or interacted with these traffickers and their cargo. These liars who operate in Venezuela and in Trinidad and Tobago now know that THEY are now to be held criminally accountable, not only for encouraging Venezuelans to break the law in trying to penetrate our borders but actually, physically arranging their dangerous transport and illegal reception in Trinidad,” Rowley said in the post.

“The law will take its course in every instance in Trinidad and Tobago but in the meantime we advise all, including local do-gooders and the international press and agencies, to cease and desist from encouraging and exposing ordinary Venezuelans to risk their lives in the waters between our two nations.

“It might appear to some to be a short journey but these waters are very dangerous and they should not risk their lives nor their children’s future to come to Trinidad and Tobago, illegally, where currently the borders are closed in a pandemic and the only legal way to enter is by way of an application through a visa.”

He added, “Currently, we, the people of the tiny nation of Trinidad and Tobago, located in the mouth of the Orinoco River of Venezuela, are hosting just over 16,000 registered Venezuelan migrants who are protected in neighbourliness, under the authority of the Government and the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.

“We, the Government, receive no help from any agency to look after these migrants, many of whom are relatively recent arrivals who entered or were trafficked to our country illegally. Nonetheless, last year, in empathy, we registered them all and allow them to try and make an honest living within our borders. Most of them pursue this path offered to them.

“However, regardless of the political or economic affairs in Venezuela, or any other territory, all persons interacting with Trinidad and Tobago must do so under an understanding that we all do so in strict accordance with the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.”

The post immediately received harsh criticism, with several people calling for more sympathy for the deceased.

Rowley also denied that he subsequently took down the posts because of any backlash.

“I live with backlash every day and don’t shy away from my responsibility if something goes wrong. I accept my responsibility whenever I have to. This is one such time,” he told Guardian Media.

But Rowley also took a subtle shot at Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

“The separate ideas are mine, not plagiarised. I mixed them up and the posting,” he said.

Back in November, Persad-Bissessar’s communication team said an “administrative error” led to it plagiarising a congratulatory message to US President-elect Joe Biden sent by British politician Sir Keir Starmer.

“I apologise and take responsibility. Punto final,” Rowley said of his error yesterday, before adding he was going to post the two separate ideas to his page.

“That is what it was supposed to be on MY page as I wanted to do before I mixed it up,” he added.

In response to the then deleted post, Persad-Bissessar said Rowley had “lost touch with reality.”

In a media release, Persad-Bissessar called Rowley’s post an “unimaginably shameful statement.”

“Invoking the recent horrific murder of teenager Ashanti Riley, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley attempted to blame both Organisation of the American States (OAS) and the Opposition UNC for the tragic death of migrants while attempting to reach our shores,” she said.

“Keith Rowley knows he is guilty of failing to craft a proper refugee policy, as well as in securing our borders. Judging by his nonsensical social media post, which has since been deleted, he is clearly attempting to mount an insanity plea in his defence.”

Persad-Bissessar called for a full investigation into the matter and how it linked to human trafficking. She also described as “most bizarre,” Rowley continuing his row with the OAS.

“It is not a coincidence that the only other person to attack the OAS in this disgraceful manner is Rowley’s ally, Nicolas Maduro. One must now ask if Keith Rowley is doing Maduro’s bidding?” she asked

“The current refugee crisis is not going to disappear anytime soon. It requires decisive, clear, and sane leadership. Sadly, for our nation, these qualities appear beyond Keith Rowley.”