ON FEBRUARY 5, one-year-old Yaelvis Sarabia Santoyo was shot in the head while lying in his mother’s arms.
Both were aboard a vessel that had been intercepted at sea by the Coast Guard.
More than three months later, the country still awaits answers in relation to the exact circumstances surrounding this tragic incident. To date, all the authorities involved have failed to provide satisfactory answers.
The lack of accountability is such that some will be left with the impression that the State has, at best, failed to treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves, or, at worst, believes it may act with fatal impunity in the service of a hostile and unjust immigration policy.
This cannot be tolerated in a country that values human life or the special status of children.
Up until Sunday, attorneys involved were still awaiting answers. They say they have asked the Chief of Defence Staff for information and documents in relation to the incident, which is reportedly subject to at least two probes: one by the Coast Guard and another by the police.
But according to the lawyers, a request under freedom of information provisions has been blocked under legislative provisions which exempt “defence and security documents” which, if released, would “prejudice the defence” of the country.
If that is the position now, such considerations did not prevent the Coast Guard on February 6 from publishing a media release on social media in which it alleged the vessel had been engaged in “aggressive manoeuvres” and that shots were fired in “self-defence.”
While the Coast Guard has appeared slow to clear the air in relation to questions that linger, the Ministry of National Security has seemingly embarked on a course of action that may well have frustrated the answering of such questions.
On February 8, Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds in the Senate expressed “sincere condolences” to the parents of the child and said the incident was being investigated by both the Coast Guard and the police.
Yet, on February 11, the ministry announced it had completed a “repatriation exercise” of the remaining individuals who would have witnessed the events.
In a media release, it made plain its true focus: “all persons were screened by competent authorities of the Republic of TT, as well as by representatives of the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to ensure, among other things, that there were no victims of human trafficking amongst them.”
The agency that handled this repatriation exercise was the Coast Guard, the very entity under scrutiny.
All these signs suggest lawyers may not get the answers they seek in relation to this matter any time soon. But others – in this country and elsewhere – are taking careful note.