By Irene Revilla and Lisbeth Barboza Ruiz.
Venezuela is in commotion after the shipwrecks of two boats that tried to head Trinidad and Tobago from the Guiria coast, with a tragic tally of 21 migrants dead at sea.
But in the state with the most Caribbean coast, Falcon, right across the street from the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curacao, relatives are still waiting to know what happens with 48 migrants who are still missing.
It would be an even 50 missing, but one body got recovered, dead in the water, the only evidence so far of the two trips and their fate.
Not knowing is the worst part
The first boat departed on June 7, 2019, with 32 people on board. They left Aguide, Piritu municipality, the destiny was Curacao.
Jhonny Romero, the father of Jesús Romero Palacios, 27-years old and one of the Aguide missing, told El Pitazo that the official information in 18 months has been null.
Romero is also the coordinator of the National Committee of Relatives Victims of Disappearances and Trafficking on the Venezuelan Coast (Cofavic in Spanish),
“In Falcon, we have two of the five cases of people who disappeared at sea during the last year. The only theory that the relatives maintain is that in the case of La Vela, the 32 people were kidnapped and are in the hands of groups dedicated to trafficking and smuggling,” he said.
This first group of locals – two teenagers, ten women, and 21 men – paid between $500 and $600 to travel illegally to the island of Curacao on June 7. The destination looks deceptively close, so close that, on a clear day, people can see the island with a naked eye. But, the island sits over dangerous Caribbean waters. Three days later, on June 10, the body of Elio Rafael Ramones was found in the waters of Curacao.
In September 2019, members of the United Nations for Refugees went to El Yabo, a town in the Colina municipality, where most of the missing lived. The commission arrived to investigate the case and evaluate the implementation of a social project in the area. The town registered a high number of people who disappeared in boats.
However, the Curacao trip of June 7 was not the only case of missing people on a boat in Falcon.
More missing people
Next December 17, marks nine months since a group of 17 migrants who tried to head to Aruba were missing in the Caribbean waters. They left from Paraguana, Falcon state, for the Dutch Caribbean island on March 17, 2020, and nobody has seen them since. The boat trip included two minors. Seven individuals have been arrested, including a former Falcon state police officer, linked to the case.
Relatives claim they do not believe the boat sank, as no belongings or any clues got found to prove it. On the contrary, they think that a gang dedicated to human trafficking is involved, so they hope that their relatives are still alive. The Nicolas Maduro regime has not offered them any explanation as to what happened to their 17 loved ones.
One of the missing is Mayra Medina, 33. She traveled with her two minor children to meet up again with her husband, who was on the island. The money he usually to sent her was no longer enough for her household expenses, and even though the border between Venezuela and the island was closed due to the Covid 19 pandemic, she decided to take the risk to reunite the family.
Ismervin Medina, a niece of Mayra, said her aunt decided to leave this way because it is a short trip, and in a few hours, she would be with her husband. She had already been waiting a long time to leave, and due to the closing of the border with the Dutch islands decreed by Nicolas Maduro, she had not been able to depart.
Medina claimed to have a job lined up in Aruba already. She also had a place to live, so she did not hesitate to take the risk with her two children and pay $500 for the three seats in the Aruba-bound boat.
Ismervin said they began the search the minute they realized the boat never arrived in Aruba, but nobody gave them answers.
“We are sure that this is a case of human trafficking where there are people of power involved. Not even a shoe got found, and if it was a shipwreck as they want to make it look, something was to get found. We are tired of being lied to, and that there is no response from the authorities. The disappeared are not animals; they are people, people who wanted a better future for their families,” she said.