Dr Anthony Gonsalves

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In the next few decades the large number of Spanish speakers in T&T could threaten English as the country’s official language, said Honourary Senior Fellow at the Institute of International Relations, University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr Anthony Gonsalves.

“Currently we are an English-speaking country and over the years we have been trying to form a society. That creates certain problems. If we get 60,000 to 100,00 Venezuelans here, within 10 to 15 years they could change the nature of the society fundamentally.

“They can demand the Spanish language is spoken. They can demand that the official regulations provide for the Spanish language to be used in courts and Government documents,” he said.

In his presentation at a virtual meeting hosted by the Trade and Economic Unit, UWI on Venezuelan immigration, Gonsalves said he has lived in countries where two or three languages are spoken and it is difficult to operate in such a diverse society. He said a large influx of Spanish speakers in T&T could cause friction in the future.

“This is why the Americans have taken a position that if you want to come to America you have to learn English, 30 per cent of the Americans are Hispanics but the United States does not recognise Spanish as an official language. That is because of the concept of an English-speaking country.

“The Venezuelans that are coming here are not just 10,000 or 20,000. They are linked to a country of 32 million people that could exercise a tremendous amount of pressure on you to do various things. Does T&T want to be an English speaking or Spanish speaking country?” he asked.

Gonsalves said Government’s drive to register Venezuelans for another six months is not helpful as that period is too short.

“If we want these people to stay here, plan accordingly and escape all the uncertainty. We need to give them a longer horizon, maybe a year, because we don’t want to encourage too many of them to come,” he said

Former People’s Partnership minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie said while Venezuela has problems, T&T has its economic challenges and he wondered whether T&T could afford to host more migrants.

“We have had six years of economic decline. How do these factors existing in the host country affect migration? Trinidad and Tobago is in an economically stressful situation. To what extent do we have a system in Trinidad and Tobago to deal with this particular system of immigration from Venezuela?” he asked.