Screen grabs of Venezuelan nationals demonstrating outside the T&T Embassy in Washington, USA, last week.

A group of Venezuelans who protested outside Trinidad and Tobago’s Embassy in Washington last Friday have noted “accidents” happening between T&T and Venezuela – but they said their protest was really to get T&T’s Government to stop “supporting” the Nicolas Maduro administration.

The Washington protest last week was the latest against T&T. Three others were staged last week outside of T&T’s Embassy in Caracas, where some Venezuelans in those groups blamed T&T for the recent drowning of about 29 Venezuelans. Their boat capsized seven miles off the Venezuelan coastal town of Guiria as they were heading to this country illegally. The vessel left Venezuela on December 6. Venezuelan investigations were subsequently launched regarding a trafficking ring.

The matter – in which misinformation has figured – put T&T centre stage of pressure in local and international quarters, including from the Organisation of American States (OAS) and Amnesty International.

Today, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley meets with Venezuela’s Ambassador to T&T, Carlos Amador Perez Silva, whom he’s summoned to a meeting to discuss the recent developments concerning both countries.

Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek Williams Saab last Thursday said the boat’s owner and the owner of a farm who harboured the group before they left for T&T were arrested. The boat owner has a criminal record for human and drug trafficking. Ten others were being sought. Investigations were also examining “mafia” involvement with Venezuelan authorities.

Persons on the vessels reportedly paid US$150 to come to T&T. Some victims’ relatives last week lamented a lack of safety procedures and lifejackets on the boat. Saab said culprits involved in the incident tried to deceive victims’ relatives by making them believe they’d been arrested when they arrived in T&T.

In the latest protest outside of the T&T Embassy in Washington last Friday, a group of people draped in Venezuelan flags and holding white crosses demonstrated.

Video shows a T&T national who was passing by stopping to record what was going on outside the embassy. While doing so, he asked the group of Venezuelans why they were protesting. A Venezuelan man who replied said he loved T&T and had relatives there and not T&T citizens also lived in Venezuela. But he said there had been “accidents” happening between T&T and Venezuela and a lot of people were lost and there was a tragedy recently. The man said members of the group were not enemies but he claimed T&T’s Government was “protecting” the Maduro administration’s dictatorship and his group needed T&T to stop. He said their protest was against T&T “supporting” that administration.

Since the flare-up of Venezuela’s issues, T&T and other countries have stood firm against interfering with that country’s political affairs. The US and other states, however, recognized Venezuelan National Assembly chairman and Opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president. Venezuelan opposition forces have a representative at OAS. T&T has taken issue with the OAS allowing this – as Venezuela dropped out of the OAS – and also with the handling of matters pertaining to Venezuela.

Government last week had to correct OAS (commissioner for the crisis of Venezuelan migrants and refugees) David Smolansky, who’d falsely claimed the boat in the recent incident involved people who were “returned” to Venezuela by T&T and they “drowned on the T&T/Venezuelan maritime border.” Smolansky was an opposition politician who left Venezuela.

Last week, T&T’s ambassador to Washington, Anthony Spencer-Phillips denounced wrong information about T&T when he set straight the record on the overall issue, addressing the OAS’ Permanent Council. He noted T&T’s non-interference position on Venezuela and adherence to rule of law, as well as the intent by some to involve T&T in the boat incident. He reiterated the T&T Coast Guard’s information on the issue.

Spencer-Phillips also said T&T cannot simply open its borders or reduce protections for the health and well-being of T&T people.

“Even developed nations with far greater resources face major challenges when dealing with crossings of their borders and no nation accepts non-nationals without due process, so egregiously derogated in remarks presented to this (OAS) Council,” Spencer-Phillips said.