AS IF WE needed reminding about the proximity of Venezuela’s troubles to our own, the photograph emerged, spelling out a grim reality. That reality is one in which a group of local fishermen sit on the floor and stare into the camera as a phalanx of guns points in their direction.
“I have read about this on the newspaper where fishermen are kidnapped but I never thought it would have reached home,” lamented Ambrose Jaikaran, parent of one of the abductees.
The plight of the fishermen has disturbing antecedents. Earlier this month, Venezuelan pirates kidnapped a 17-year-old student and his cousin. As with the Morne Diablo group, a photograph of the two abductees showing a man holding a gun to their heads was sent to the family and a ransom demanded.
That case remains unsolved.
Whether there is a connection is unclear. But what is known is that the problem of criminal activity in the Gulf of Paria has reached a crisis point.
There have long been concerns about the shipment of illegal narcotics, firearms and even human trafficking. Now, authorities must contend with what seems to be a trend of kidnapping for ransom at sea. Clearly, the days when pirates pillaged ships for gold are gone.
There are complex jurisdictional questions that have to be ironed out by all of these developments. Police have stated they do not have standing to pursue matters on international waters, but officials at the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs as well as the Ministry of National Security are on the case.
Our public international law may provide a robust framework for co-operation, but the reality is too many cooks spoil the broth. While each matter should be treated on a case-by-case basis, it is not clear co-operative arrangements are bringing about the best results.
None of this, however, should be used as an excuse to revert to a foreign policy that stokes the fire of xenophobia. What is needed now is not a border wall but rather border security.
We concur with the views expressed by British High Commissioner to TT Tim Stew. We need to have a process in place to regulate arrivals from Venezuela.
We would go further to suggest we need a process in place to ensure seamless law enforcement in matters relating to the gulf. It’s not good enough to simply shut down the ports at which Venezuelans have long arrived. The arrivals will continue through whatever means are available. A clear structure would at least make things manageable and would provide the State with far better access to information.
Given the deterioration of the situation in Venezuela, there is a clear and present danger that longstanding problems on our border will dramatically escalate. We need manpower in place, in addition to diplomacy. Are we ready?