Suspected a human trafficking network in the missing of 60 people on the Venezuelan coast

Two missing parties, 60 persons in total, left by boat from Guiria, Sucre state in 2019, headed for Trinidad and Tobago. They never were seen again. Relatives suspect that they were victims of a human traffickers network

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Relatives of the missing are still waiting for a response from the authorities.

By Yesenia Garcia.

The families of 60 people who disappeared over a year ago out of Guiria, in Sucre state, are still waiting for a response from the Public Prosecutor.

The missing were traveling on two boats: the Jonailys Jose, left Guiria on April 23, 2019, with 38 people on board. Nine were rescued alive and are currently under custody. The body of a 16-year-old girl got also retrieved from what is describing as a human-trafficking tied shipwreck. The second boat, Ana Maria, left on May 16, 2019, with 33 passengers. All of them are reported missing.

Ana Arias, the mother of one of the missing, recalls that the last time she visited the Public Office in Caracas was in February of this year, and she did not receive a reply from the investigators either by mail or telephone.

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Testimonies accumulate, while the Nicolás Maduro regime authorities offer no official explanation. At least one complainant told El Pitazo that she was contacted by her missing relative and said to her that they were requesting a $200 ransom to let her go. And one victim, who somehow managed to return to land after a first shipwreck, disappeared in the second voyage.

“We made a committee of families who were victims of trafficking, made up of parents from the two shipwrecks in Guiria and Falcon. We have a meeting with the head of the office with responsibility for human rights for five months, along with an assistant in the Public Prosecutor Office, and they have agreed to review the cases,” Arias explained.

Missings and no answers

In coastal Facon state, Western Venezuela, a similar situation has emerged, where a human-trafficking ring gets suspected of conning people into traveling by boat to nearby Dutch Caribbean islands. Several dozen passengers are now missing. In both cases, Guiria and Falcon, there have been arrests reported, but none of the missings has appeared alive, and only two corpses have resurfaced in the Falcon beaches.

The mother of a female teenage missing person, Luisanny Jose Betancourt Arias, explained that she went to international instances where she introduced documents with the birth certificate of the disappeared child.

In Guiria, boats continue to leave for Trinidad. Photo by Yesenia Garcia.

“I offered statements of what happened, and I’m still waiting for help with my case. The status of these cases is generally at zero, so to speak because we haven’t had any progress in the investigation,” she explained.

A year and three months after the disappearance of her daughter, she said that in the case of the now missing Jonailys Jose boat, they only know that nine people are held in the National Guard (GN) in Guiria, but they have no answers about the missing persons.

“My daughter was a victim of human trafficking, she called me crying, telling me that they were asking for two hundred dollars to free her; then she did not communicate again,” explains the complainant.”

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The father of Andy Villegas (32), who disappeared in the Ana Maria shipwreck, agrees with Luisannys’ mother. They maintain that passengers in the two missing boats were victims of a human trafficking network operating off the Eastern Venezuelan coast.

“I still believe that it is a big mafia well organized where some officials are involved. These young people were negotiated or given as debt payments, but the government doesn’t care, I know that our children are in the mountains of Paria or got sold in other countries,” Villegas said.

The complainant’s son had been working on the island of Trinidad and Tobago for a year and had come to process his son’s and wife’s passports.

He left Guiria because of the economic crisis in the country. I know that my son is alive, and we will not tire of looking for all the missing people and of clarifying what happened,” stressed the father.

The witnesses claim that the research is also at a standstill because many relatives of the victims were threatened, assaulted, and are afraid to approach the Third Prosecutor’s Office in Guiria.

“Yosqueilis Zurita was in the same boat as my daughter. She was one of those who were saved and denounced. Now she was kidnapped again in March of this year. The youngest girl contacted her mother and told her that she got sold for $300 in Trinidad,” Arias explained.

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