Corruption at the hands of state officials and law enforcement officers is a significant factor in the facilitation of human trafficking between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, according to some of the findings of a 2019 CARICOM Human Trafficking study.
According to investigations carried out in the Venezuelan town of Tucupita, which included interviews with human traffickers, some of the gangs in the region are headed and operated by law-enforcement officers from Trinidad & Tobago.
The research carried out by researcher Dr C Justine Pierre, and assisted by Nayrobis Rodriguez, gathered information from traffickers, smugglers, victims, law enforcement officers, as well as from anti-human trafficking organizations in more than 32 countries.
One Venezuelan trafficker indicated that through his connection with elements in the T&T Police Service, he has been assured of protection by officers who advise him where to enter the country.
He also claimed that the officers provide security for the safe-houses where the women are kept before they are carried across Trinidad & Tobago in trucks, cars, maxi-taxis, and vans.
Another trafficker confirmed the claims, saying that he had been working with a police officer from Trinidad and Tobago who pays him to provide women for his T&T-based organisation.
Admitting that he was part of a gang that specialised in kidnapping Venezuelans and carrying them to T&T, he said the officer, a constable, is a member of an organised South American crime network.
He said they worked together to bring across the women, where they were forced to work, in many instances, as sex slaves and prostitutes.
To support his claims, he showed the research team the officer’s cell phone number.
He also provided a series of correspondence between the two of them, demonstrating that discussions were about human trafficking activities.
When approached by the research team, the accused officer denied the allegations, saying he has never been a member of a gang.
Asked why a known-trafficker would have his phone number, the constable stated he did not know why, and that having someone’s phone number in one’s possession does not constitute a crime.
In another investigation, discussions between researchers and military agents revealed that the organized-crime gang was led by a man nicknamed ‘El Monky,’ who, at the time of his arrest, was found in possession of the telephone number of a Trinidadian police officer.
Guardian Media sent the following questions to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service’s Communication Department on Thursday and have not yet received responses:
1) Was the TTPS aware of the findings of the study?
2) Are there active investigations surrounding the possible involvement of TTPS officers in human trafficking?
3) Have any TTPS officers been arrested for human trafficking in the last five years or so?
4) Does the TTPS have any other comment on the issue?