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