The sinking of a small ship that was heading towards Curaçao from Venezuela and the disappearance of all its occupants could be an indication that drug trafficking groups are also controlling the traffic routes of people in the region.
On June 7, the group of 32 migrants, along with three crew members, sailed from Punta Aguide, in the state of Falcón, located on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. On June 11 they were reported missing, and a month later their whereabouts are still unknown.
The disappearance was reported as a wreck, an increasingly common tragedy among migrants trying to flee the Venezuelan crisis in the Caribbean. So far this year, there have been three shipwrecks with more than 80 migrants in total.
After this last wreck, relatives of those affected reported that all migrants wore life jackets. However, to date only one body has been found: that of Elio Ramones, identified in Curaçao on June 12. To the authorities’ surprise, the body looked recent, suggesting that the man had died several days after the alleged shipwreck.
The Secretary of Security of the state Falcón, Oswaldo Rodríguez León, who coordinates the search for the disappeared, said that “it is not possible to locate or trace the 32 people who disappeared in that shipwreck; the bodies should be floating in case they have drowned. You have to investigate pirates who could have taken them. ”
On July 11, two men were arrested for recruiting migrants in Vela de Coro, a city located on the north coast of Venezuela. However, these arrests have not given the authorities greater clues that allow them to locate the disappeared.
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In the month of June, survivors of another shipwreck unveiled a trafficking route used to transport vulnerable women and girls from Venezuela to Trinidad and Tobago, where they were sold for the sex trade.
In the case of Falcón, the inhabitants of the region consulted by InSight Crime say that human trafficking is used as a façade for drug shipments sent to the Dutch Caribbean islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), which are located at distance between 15 and 50 nautical miles off the coast of Venezuela.
According to local sources, both cocaine and marijuana arrive by land and are stored in shacks on the beaches of Falcón. Then, at night, drugs are boarded to small boats that leave for the neighboring islands as if they were migrant transporters, but with cargoes of up to 8,000 kilos per day.
Although the declarations of the inhabitants of the region are not officially corroborated, they are supported by the large seizures of drugs recently made on the Lara-Falcón road, in the direction of the Falcon coast.
Migrants are tricked into involving them in the plan by telling them that they will be charged low fees. The 32 missing persons had allegedly paid US $ 400 for the trip, compared to the standard fare between US $ 650 and US $ 700.
InSight Crime spoke with three families of Sail of Chorus whose loved ones were aboard the ship that was wrecked and who are missing. They say that after the disappearance they began their own investigations, and even inquired with relatives in Curaçao. They claim that the lost ship was carrying a shipment of drugs to Curaçao and that said cargo actually reached its destination, but with 500 kilos less than expected, which supports its suspicion that migrants were kidnapped because the captain did not deliver the entire cargo .
Families have also begun searching the hills around Punta Aguide, where they believe migrants were held before boarding the ships. However, helicopters are required to explore the mountainous territory largely controlled by drug traffickers.
There are those who point out the inadequate official response as evidence that there is criminal complicity. Although the authorities were notified of the disappearance one day after it occurred, the search did not begin until June 11, that is, four days later.
In addition, it has been said that the authorities knew about the trip before the ship sailed. Family members who spoke with InSight Crime say that the migrants intended to leave on June 6, but were intercepted by officials from the Corps of Scientific, Criminal and Criminal Investigations (CICPC), who stole some of their belongings, including their mobile phones, and the captain was taken $ 1,000. Migrants spent the night hidden in the forest and left the next night.
Apparently, CICPC officials have also been involved in other cases of abuse of migrants, including the sex trafficking route to Trinidad and Tobago that was announced in June.
This is not the first Venezuelan migrant ship that disappears. Of a ship that disappeared on May 16 when heading to Trinidad and Tobago, no bodies, remains or surviving passengers were found.