DAVID ABDULAH, political leader of the Movement for Social Justice, looks at the crisis in Venezuela in a two-part article focusing on immigration, deportation, the danger of false narratives and proposals for the way forward.
THE MOVEMENT for Social Justice (MSJ) is deeply concerned about the false narratives in the media over the issue of Venezuelans who have entered TT. When false narratives are continually put into the public domain, the result can be dangerous, as people arrive at conclusions based on a false premise.
It is said that President Nicolas Maduro is a dictator, that his regime is undemocratic. Is this a fact? No!
President Maduro was democratically elected in 2013. Venezuela has had more elections in the past 20 years than TT. These include state governors, municipal elections, parliamentary elections, presidential elections and a recall referendum against president Hugo Chavez.
There was a process mediated by the President of the Dominican Republic in which both the Venezuelan government and opposition participated. Also involved were high-level representatives of two pro-opposition and two pro-Latin American governments. The process yielded an agreement that an election for the president should be held in April, but just before the agreement was signed the opposition reneged.
The date for the presidential election is now set for May 20. Some sections of the opposition are refusing to take part and the US Government is now calling for the postponement of the election that was being demanded before. Why? Is it that they fear losing?
The false premise of no democracy in Venezuela also leads to the wrong conclusion that there is political persecution.
The fact is that sections of the Venezuelan opposition have been engaged in a campaign of sustained protests against the democratically elected government in order to bring about regime change. We need to ask: If a section of the political opposition in this country engaged in openly violent protest action and publicly preached hatred, violence and called for the physical overthrow of a democratically elected government, would this be condoned in the media; and if they were imprisoned and charged with offences such as treason and sedition, would this be seen as dictatorial?
It is being propagated that the majority of Venezuelans who enter TT are political asylum-seekers and/or have a legitimate claim to be refugees. This is a false narrative.
The fact is that there is a major economic crisis in Venezuela. This crisis – one manifestation of which is hyper-inflation – is resulting in thousands of Venezuelans leaving their country looking for work. The majority of Venezuelans in TT are therefore economic migrants or migrant workers. Others are informal traders – buying goods here and returning home to sell. A few are involved in illegal activity.
These migrant workers do not qualify as asylum-seekers or political refugees. They are not fleeing war or political persecution. They are coming to TT looking for work.
But they enter as tourists and are given the usual, lawful three months to stay. Such visitors are not supposed to work. It is no different from Trinis going to the US for a “holiday” – you are not supposed to work. But we all know that a few Trinis do work – but this is illegal. And if you’re caught you can be deported.
It must be asked if any organisation(s) or individuals here in TT are facilitating the exploitation of migrant workers by offering them “work” or, when they arrive, give them short-term shelter and then “process them” by getting accommodation and jobs for them under conditions not far removed from slavery and indenture.
The migrants have to work extra-long hours, do all kinds of jobs, get paid below minimum-wage rates, enjoy no time off or overtime or sick leave etc. They live in poor conditions. They can’t complain, because they’re illegal. Some are sold into prostitution.
It is very significant that none of those who have raised their voices in horror over 82 Venezuelans being deported have said a word about the exploitation of Venezuelan migrant workers or migrant workers from other countries. How can they claim to be concerned about the welfare of migrant workers when they don’t care a damn about them being exploited here?
The network encourages the migrant worker to get some “papers” in the hope that this establishes their legal status here. Some marry nationals; the majority do not. To try and get around the law and stay longer than the time permitted by immigration, they apply for refugee status or seek asylum.
But you don’t qualify for this status on the basis that you need a job. You can only qualify if you claim political persecution.
The Living Water Community is the UN-recognised body in TT that processes such applications. Living Water is therefore either unwittingly or consciously facilitating people to try and beat this country’s immigration laws by encouraging people to state, untruthfully, that they are victims of political persecution in order to qualify to apply for asylum or to be deemed a refugee.
If caught, illegal immigrants are detained at the Detention Centre, awaiting deportation. However, someone has to pay for their travel back to their home country. If they can’t afford the ticket it becomes the responsibility of their government to get them back home.
There are scores of detainees from various countries from Africa and the Caribbean in the Detention Centre. Some have real families here in TT. Where were Living Water, Amnesty International, the UN Commission on Human Rights and others who have cried shame about the Venezuelans, but have been totally silent about the plight of Nigerians or Jamaicans?
This is not about xenophobia or being anti-immigrant. Our concern is that there seems to be a different approach by the media, certain international agencies and other interests when it comes to Venezuela and this may well be due to a political agenda.
To be continued