Local gang leader linked to missing migrants

The leader of a crim­i­nal gang based on the north coast of Trinidad has been named by sources in Güiria, Venezuela, as a key part of a hu­man traf­fick­ing net­work op­er­at­ing be­tween the two coun­tries.

Rel­a­tives of mi­grants who have been miss­ing since last Thurs­day when they left Güiria on board the pirogue Ana María des­tined for Ch­aguara­mas, are now point­ing fin­gers at a crim­i­nal en­ter­prise head­ed by the T&T gang­ster that has been in­volved in lur­ing women to make the dan­ger­ous trip across the Gulf of Paria. They tell sto­ries of women be­ing en­slaved, drugged and forced in­to pros­ti­tu­tion.

Guardian Me­dia has ob­tained a state­ment by Isidro Vil­le­gas, a nav­i­ga­tion spe­cial­ist, whose son, Andy, 32, was among the pas­sen­gers on the Ana Maria. Vil­le­gas be­lieves the ves­sel was hi­jacked by pi­rates.

“We are talk­ing about or­gan­ised gangs that have hi­jacked the boats that have dis­ap­peared in Bo­ca de Dragón. Ac­cord­ing to un­of­fi­cial in­for­ma­tion, they are hid­ing in caves be­tween Cha­cachacare and Monos in Trinidad. There in those caves they hide the boats with peo­ple and then when every­thing is for­got­ten, they are tak­ing peo­ple to oth­er ar­eas,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Vil­le­gas, while the women are be­ing made in­to sex slaves “the men are put to work for the crim­i­nal gang and if they refuse they are killed.”

Vil­le­gas is­sued a state­ment yes­ter­day af­ter he, along with rel­a­tives of oth­er miss­ing mi­grants and ac­quain­tances, sailed from Güiria and made a 320 mile round trip from Bo­ca de Dragón to Los Tes­ti­gos—a group of is­lands in the south­east­ern Caribbean Sea that is part of the Fed­er­al De­pen­den­cies of Venezuela—then sail­ing north to an area bor­der­ing Grena­da.

He said the searched re­vealed that there was “noth­ing, ab­solute­ly noth­ing re­lat­ed to a ship­wreck.”

He added: “No mat­ter how small the boat is, there are al­ways traces, there were no bags, clothes, shoes, gaso­line tanks, vests . . . noth­ing.”

Vil­le­gas claims there are of­fi­cials in T&T who are aware of the sit­u­a­tion. He said he has heard about a “pa­trol of­fi­cer” who ac­cepts bribes of US$100 per pas­sen­ger for boats to en­ter T&T un­de­tect­ed.

“I want to make a call to the Trinidad and To­ba­go gov­ern­ment to act quick­ly and res­cue all those peo­ple who are kid­napped in those caves,” he said.

So far, the on­ly per­son found alive from the ves­sel is Al­ber­to Abreu, re­port­ed to be the cap­tain of the Ana María, who was res­cued by a pass­ing ves­sel 30 miles off Ch­aguara­mas and tak­en to Grena­da.

Re­ports out of Güiria are that 29 pas­sen­gers were on the pirogue and it is now be­lieved that they were kid­napped by hu­man traf­fick­ers.

The miss­ing mi­grants have been iden­ti­fied as Antony Mon­ser­rat, 25, Adrián Ma­ta, 19, Deivi Su­cre, 24, Juan Ve­ga, 42, Ce­sar Zor­ril­la ,48, Yold­eivis Mat­tei, 22, Car­los Mer­chan, 26, Jhos­marlys Gómez, 19, Andy Vil­le­gas, 32, José Bernal, 20, Cris­t­ian Martínez, 23, José Bel­lo, 20, Dar­win Cedeño, 32, Onel López, 34, Os­car López, 29, Franklin Cordero, Gio­van­ny López, Winder Blan­co, 28, Kel­ly Zam­bra­no, 20, Ale­jan­dro Peña, 25, Luis Gua­ni­pa, 47, An­to­nio López, 44, Marolin Bas­tar­do, 19, Gé­ne­sis Reinoza and Nar­isu­ka Si­fonte.

Al­so be­lieved to be on board were a fam­i­ly from El Ti­gre, An­zoátegui state—two chil­dren ages 3 and 4 years, and their moth­er Kather­ine Berra, 23.

Rel­a­tives re­port­ed the boat miss­ing last Fri­day af­ter they heard that it had not ar­rived in Trinidad at the ex­pect­ed time. Some of them have been keep­ing up a vig­il at La Playi­ta, as the port of Güiria is known, hop­ing for news of their loved ones.

Leonar­do Zor­ril­la said his broth­er César was try­ing to en­ter T&T il­le­gal­ly be­cause he could not pay the le­gal fare of US$550.

An­to­nio and Car­men de Mon­ser­rat said their son An­tho­ny left on the boat in search of a bet­ter fu­ture.

“We want the world to know what is hap­pen­ing in Güiria. We do not have sup­port,” said An­to­nio and Car­men de Mon­ser­rat.

Fam­i­ly mem­bers are ap­peal­ing to the au­thor­i­ties in T&T and Venezuela to car­ry out aer­i­al search­es for the miss­ing.

The Ana María is the sec­ond ves­sel that has dis­ap­peared be­tween Güiria and Ch­aguara­mas in less than a month. On April 23, the ves­sel Jhonai­lys José was re­port­ed to have cap­sized in the rough sea in the Bo­ca de Dragón.

Reporter: Suzanne Sheppard

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