Our history records Trinidad and Tobago’s fisherfolk dodging bullets from or being arrested by Venezuela’s Guardia Nacional for supposedly being in Venezuelan waters. Today we continue to metaphorically dodge different kinds of bullets from our Venezuelan neighbours.
For years, the back-and-forth confrontational posturing was a trickle—the fisherfolk dispute, or the occasional Venezuelan found illegally in T&T. Then came the sustained deluge of illegal Venezuelans seeking a better life.
The most recent ‘bullets’ include the jitters caused some weeks ago by the potential environmental hazard posed by the tilting oil tanker, the Nabarima.
This week, it is the mistreatment of Venezuelan children, both on land and sea. Unless specific action is taken to manage our open borders, it is only a matter of time before Trinidad and Tobago is featured globally in some emblematic photograph of a cross-border disaster involving our Venezuelan neighbours.
Remember the pictures of Kim Phuc the naked 9-year old fleeing the Napalm attack in Vietnam on 8 June 1972? Or the little Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, drowned on a beach in Turkey on 2 September of 2015 while trying to reach shore?
These are not alarmist notions but warnings of possibilities, even as the Minister of National Security claims that the law says they are ‘undesirables’.
There is no question about our inability to absorb unchecked Venezuelan migration but it will continue to happen until our borders are policed and managed, and infrastructure and regulations for humane treatment of refugees and migrants are implemented.
We did well to regularise 15,000 Venezuelan neighbours and it is almost time for their revalidation. But we are not doing well with the treatment of the estimated 16 Venezuelan children whom we have shunted from prison cells to pirogue onto the ocean and then back again.
Even in times of war, there is a commitment to protect the children unless you have ‘Trumpian’ tendencies and feel no empathy for caged children. In the midst of this, the minister of national security was allegedly unaware of the decision to escort a pirogue filled with children (one of whom was just 4 months old)—in the absence of their parents or guardians—into the open sea.
In a completely different aspect of law and order, the population is yet to receive a reasonable explanation of what happened with the DSS (Drug Sou Sou) money which was shunted from the home of the owner to the police station and back again. The common pattern in these two very different incidents is that either there is no rule book or the rules are not being followed.
Either way, it is time for action to be taken. But first we must admit that we are presiding over deep systemic failure of our institutions. It is from this recognition that things are falling apart that we may find the window of opportunity to redesign our systems and re-imagine a different future.
The anecdotal evidence is that we are generally welcoming the Venezuelans and trying to accommodate them as fellow human beings. Many are being absorbed because their work ethic is superior to ours, although others have become collateral damage and players in our fast expanding underworld.
The country is at crisis level with the influx of Venezuelans, drugs and guns through our porous borders.
If a solution is not implemented soon it will be a matter of time before a humanitarian disaster catapults us onto the world stage in unfortunate ways.