A 60-year-old Venezuelan man with terminal cancer, awaiting trial for cocaine trafficking, has been given the green light to return to his country to receive palliative care.
Jose Salazar, of Punta de Piedra, Venezuela, was among a group of eight Venezuelan nationals who were arrested by T&T Coast Guard officers off the north coast of Trinidad in July 2016, after a large quantity of cocaine was allegedly found on-board their pirogue.
Salazar was initially denied bail and was held on remand until he and his co-accused were eventually committed to stand trial by a magistrate in August 2018.
Salazar’s health worsened while on remand, as he was only offered emergency treatment and not cancer treatment because he is a non-national.
His lawyer Mario Merritt then proceeded to make a series of bail applications on his behalf in an attempt for him to return home for cancer treatment.
The first application was denied by Master Shabiki Cazabon in September 2019, as she ruled that he did not have sufficient ties to T&T to be granted bail.
Almost a year later, Cazabon reconsidered her ruling and granted $350,000 bail with a cash alternative of $50,000.
Salazar’s family could not meet the bail conditions and made a second application, which was heard by Master Margaret Sookraj-Goswami in November last year.
Sookraj-Goswami agreed to reduce the cash alternative by half.
Merritt was forced to file a final application in March, after a doctor at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mt Hope, where Salazar has remained warded after undergoing emergency surgery in July last year, claimed that Salazar’s condition was very grave and he had months to live.
The application was heard and determined by Master Nalini Singh yesterday.
Singh agreed to grant $10,000 bail with Salazar being released on his own recognisance.
As the Enforcement Unit of the Immigration Division was on COVID-19 quarantine, Singh ordered that Salazar be released into Merritt’s care so that he could be taken to the Chaguaramas Port where he was expected to board a Venezuelan fishing vessel, which has exemptions to enter Trinidad at the location to offload its catch.
Even with the court-ordered clearance, Salazar still almost did not make the short journey home.
Guardian Media understands that there was a delay in receiving the official documents for bail, which meant that the fishing vessel had to delay its departure from Trinidad to accommodate Salazar.
Sources said that Salazar was also forced to make the journey without official travel documents, as requests made to the Venezuelan Embassy were not facilitated up to late yesterday.
In a brief telephone interview after Salazar boarded the vessel shortly after 3 pm yesterday, Merritt said a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, as he had spent months advocating for a solution to his client’s issue.
Merritt took issue with the country’s policy of not offering cancer treatment to non-nationals, as he said that Salazar had essentially been given a death sentence without being convicted of a crime.
“This is something that actually upset me…I could not get it off my mind,” Merritt said.
He suggested that under the Constitution, although Salazar was not a citizen, he should have been given equal treatment by public authorities as T&T citizens, who would have been offered cancer treatment while on remand or incarcerated.
Salazar was also represented by Karunaa Bisramsingh.