Heliport inhumanity

The heliport in Chaguaramas. -
The heliport in Chaguaramas. -

THE ALARMING findings of High Court judge Margaret Mohammed in relation to the false imprisonment of a Venezuelan boy at the Chaguaramas Heliport for 15 months are the most graphic indications yet of the barbaric consequences of the State’s inhumane handling of the Venezuelan migrant issue.

So horrific was this case, dating back to 2020, that last Friday the judge ordered the State to pay $2.4 million in damages.

In what will go down as being among some of the most disgraceful findings ever issued by a court against any public body in this country, the judge said the child’s treatment, which included his detention among adults and his forced introduction to inappropriate behaviour at the heliport, triggered severe psychological damage.

“The consequences of the claimant being exposed to explicit sexual acts and activities have been dire on the claimant, which can only be described as if he has been robbed of his innocence as a child,” the judge said, also finding his life was daily placed at risk by the poor conditions at the facility.

“The overwhelming evidence was that the treatment of the claimant became worse as his detention continued.” He was there for 456 days.

These findings, based on the judge’s assessment of the evidence – including testimony from the State – all but confirm the rumours and reports about this ad-hoc facility, which have painted a picture of a location where abuse is normalised.

Even a recent parliamentary committee report, not contradicted by any government official, detailed evidence suggesting things have gone badly wrong at the heliport.

All of it lends credence to the argument that this facility should be closed or overhauled.

What is particularly stinging in Justice Mohammed’s rebuke, however, is the fact that it comes notwithstanding much attention to the issue of the treatment of minors in custody in this country over the last few years.

In 2022, the explosive findings of the Judith Jones-led investigatory committee set up by Cabinet to probe the problem of abuse at children’s homes rocked the nation, generating deep concern over the failure of bodies like the Children’s Authority and specific governmental and non-governmental entities.

It is perverse that it is the State, and an arm of the State charged with security, that is to blame for how this boy was treated.

Yet sadly, this case is of a piece with the Government’s frequent mishandling of the Venezuelan migration issue, in which policies have always seemed geared towards treating all foreigners as criminals.

Justice Mohammed has laid bare the shocking and appalling fruit of this approach, which mirrors decades of deep-rooted xenophobia among some in our society.

Not only must damages be paid in this matter, but heads should roll.


"Heliport inhumanity"

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