We are saddened by yesterday’s revelation that 19 Venezuelan nationals who sought to cross from Güiria to Trinidad drowned in their attempt to do so.

Reports carried by multiple Venezuelan media outlets said the group had been missing since December 6 before the bodies of 11 of them were found by Venezuela’s Guardia Nacional 11 kilometres off the port of Güiria late Saturday.

Those found included four men, four women and three children.

These were people who believed that by leaving Venezuela for T&T, they would find a better life. To meet their deaths within the rough waters that stood between them and their dreams, is a great tragedy. Our sympathies go out to their families and to the Venezuelan people on this tragic event.

Yet, we note that once again their deaths are already being used as an opportunity by the Venezuelan opposition to lay blame to T&T and its government.

In a report carried by Venezuela’s El Pitazo, Juan Guaidó who has been recognised by several countries as the interim president of Venezuela, is quoted as saying that this tragedy is compounded by “the aggravation of the treatment that Venezuelans have received in Trinidad and Tobago, due to the recent “extradition” of Venezuelan children”.

“We must denounce not only the situation with force, but see this as an additional reason not to surrender, an additional reason to fight for Venezuela, to protect our people,” he added.

Several newspaper reports, including El Nuevo Herald suggested the drownings occurred after the Venezuelans were rejected by T&T authorities.

There has been, so far, no substantiation of these claims and our Coast Guard has said it made no contact with them.

However, David Smolansky, a Venezuelan opposition member and the OAS commissioner for the migrant and refugee crisis in Venezuela, believes T&T must shoulder the responsibility for these deaths.

“They fled the regime and Trinidad violated the principle of non-refoulment. According to what relatives and close associates of these people have reported to us, the peñero (boat) left from Güiria to Trinidad, was returned from the island and would have been shipwrecked.”

While we don’t discount Smolansky’s passion as a Venezuelan seeking the interest of his citizens, we wish to remind him and those spreading this anti-T&T narrative, that there is no country in the world which allows migrants to enter unchecked outside of the established points of entry. This is what those who suffered this unfortunate tragedy were seeking to do.

Furthermore, it is no secret that T&T has closed its borders, thereby making it impossible to enter legally, without approval. This, quite frankly, was an attempt to illegally penetrate our borders—an unlawful act.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has made it very clear that while T&T has opened its arms more readily than many others, we are not prepared to accept the continued flouting of our laws, more so, when COVID-19 presents its own challenges.

The Venezuelan opposition would better serve its nationals by spreading a message against taking such unnecessary and life-threatening risks.

Attempting to blame T&T for denying entry to illegal migrants in accordance with our laws, is to treat our sovereignty with derision, which we strongly condemn.

The facts must be presented clearly and truthfully and we trust that in the coming days they are laid bare.

Until then we maintain the position that our laws must be fully respected and reject any attempt to lay blame for this unfortunate incident at the feet of our people.