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A woman holds a candle in Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday, during a vigil for victims who drowned in Guiria last weekend while on their way to T&T illegally.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has summoned Venezuela’s Ambassador to T&T, Carlos Amador Perez Silva, to a meeting to discuss recent developments concerning both countries – and Trinidad and Tobago’s position.

Guardian Media confirmed yesterday that Rowley will meet with the Ambassador on Monday for the discussions. The meeting will be a face-to-face event between both men, rather than virtual.

In recent days, Trinidad and Tobago has doubled down on stating its position on Venezuelan migrants, following assorted misinformation on the recent incident where 28 Venezuelans drowned in waters near Guiria. Their boat overturned in Venezuelan on their journey to T&T.

The group, reported to be comprising about 30 people, was heading to T&T for new lives. Bodies began surfacing last week Friday and were first noted by Venezuelan Coast Guard.

On Thursday, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek Williams Saab, via a statement, confirmed the group was heading to T&T. He stated that 26 of the victims were so far identified. Saab said each migrant paid US$150 to a human-trafficking ring for their passage.

The boat’s captain, alleged to have a criminal record for trafficking people and drugs, was arrested. Also arrested was the owner of the farm who harboured the group before they left for T&T. The arrest often other Venezuelans was ordered, as well as for seven members of Venezuela’s armed forces, for extortion.

Since the shipwreck, T&T has been under pressure, including from international groups like Amnesty International, Venezuelan opposition members, opposition loyalists in Venezuela and in T&T and from locally-based Venezuelans. The majority of the calls have been for the Government to accommodate the migrants coming to these shores seeking refuge.

Two protests pressing this cause were mounted around T&T’s Caracas Embassy and a third was staged yesterday by a small group.

Rowley, who’s led T&T’s defence, on Thursday made it clear that laws on trafficking will be tightened over upcoming months and moves will be made on other conditions to prevent exploitation of Venezuelans. He also urged Venezuelans to respect T&T’s laws and borders and not to encourage their loved ones to risk their lives by illegal entry. The Prime Minister noted T&T’s visa system and announced that Government will extend to July the amnesty for the 16,523 registered Venezuelans in this country. After re-registering, Government will decide on their status.

Bloomberg also yesterday reported that United States President-elect Joe Biden intends pushing for free, fair Venezuelan elections, offering in return relief from US sanctions against Venezuela. Biden’s advisers are preparing for potential negotiations with Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro to end the Western Hemisphere’s worst economic and humanitarian crisis stemming from that country’s issues, the report said.

On Thursday meanwhile, Barron.com reported that the brother of drowning victim Cristalinda Goitia had lamented the lack of safety conditions and lifejackets on the shipwrecked boat. Santiago Goitia said Cristalinda was coming to T&T with her 11-year-old son for Christmas and hoped to stay.

Venezuelan AG Saab, on Twitter, said Venezuela’s investigation began before the first body was found when an audio recording was revealed in which it was said that a group of people had embarked to T&T. But he said no more news was heard of them except they’d been “arrested and were in a military base.”

Saab said the criminal culprits involved in the incident tried to deceive victims’ relatives by making them believe they’d been arrested when they arrived in T&T. Trafficking investigations will examine mafias’ involvement with Venezuelan authorities. He added that for a long time, the Venezuelan Public Interior Minister had been holding meetings with the T&T Embassy to guarantee that this type of crime is punished in both countries.

Saab said the issue (with the drownings) was a transnational crime that needs joint effort from authorities in Venezuela and T&T to tackle the acts inside and outside Venezuela.

“I’m confident the cooperation with T&T will deliver results, based on the conversations we’ve had,” Saab said.

In T&T, over ten people, including law enforcement personnel, have been charged with human trafficking and there’s been an intensification of focus on this, National Security Minister Stuart Young said in Parliament recently.

Foreign Affairs Minister Amery Browne recently slapped down false allegations by OAS Secretary General Envoy (Venezuelan Migration and Refugee Crisis) David Smolansky that the boat “could have been sent back by T&T.”

In a Facebook post, Brown noted Smolansky is a Venezuelan opposition politician employed at the OAS and has a “campaign of deliberate fabrication against T&T … working at a multilateral organisation doesn’t mean anyone’s somehow entitled to create their own facts.”

Venezuela’s estimated that about 100 people have disappeared trying to make the crossing between Venezuela and T&T over 2018/2019. Saab noted 118 cases of trafficking of people since 2017.