Friday 3 July, 2020

Trinidad's black market trade with Venezuela featured in Bloomberg

Photo: Isaac Urrutia/Reuters

Photo: Isaac Urrutia/Reuters

Guns, cocaine, human trafficking and illegal wild animals were just some of the items which a Bloomberg reporter discovered in Trinidad during a report on the black market trade in Venezuela. 

The seedy underbelly of fishing villages in South Trinidad was exposed in a recent Bloomberg article on Venezuela’s economic crisis, including the black market trade and piracy attacks.

According to the article, published Tuesday January 30, journalist Jonathan Franklin was told that a bag of flour worth US$5 was being sold for a whopping US$20.

Franklin travelled with fishermen in their pirogue over to Venezuela where he saw items like pampers and being traded for contraband items. 

He also spoke with a Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard officer who told him that Venezuelans often come to “trade marijuana and cocaine for food”.

Franklin said he opted to travel to Trinidad and Tobago as he had previously been arrested in Venezuela for ‘illegal reporting’.

“On the Cedros waterfront, next to the pier, I found a group of men lounging under palm trees. I asked them about the smuggling business. “I’m Mr. Flour, and this is Mr. Rice,” said Carlos, a burly truck driver, by way of introducing himself and a friend. Within minutes he was unlocking a cargo van to show off sacks of flour ready to be shipped to Venezuela. Five dollars’ worth of flour in Trinidad, Carlos said, was worth $20 across the gulf.”

Franklin said he observed Venezuelan fishermen bringing in contraband cigarettes, cocaine, and agouti and ‘a rodent whose meat appears on local menus (manicou)’.

“Thus many smugglers prefer guns, vodka, and especially gasoline. The Venezuelan government so deeply subsidizes gas that even after a 1,300 percent price hike last year, a gallon costs less than 40¢—about a sixth of the price at the pump in Trinidad,” Franklin said.

Pampers ‘like gold’ in Venezuela

In a grim twist, Franklin said some of the hottest black market items are Pampers and diapers, which cost three times as much in Venezuela. Smugglers usually trade the items for medicine.

Franklin said many sales also take place online.

“I found Navin and Ricky, two Trinidadians in their late 20s who declined to give me their last names. They agreed to let me join their expedition in exchange for gas money…There was no paperwork, no registration, and no sign of Coast Guard boats, border patrol missions, or even a harbor master.”

“We pay them in dollars and diapers. Huggies. It’s a brand they don’t get in Venezuela, and they love it.

Narcos, smugglers and thieves

The report said some corrupt fishermen were paid to give information to ‘narcos and thieves’, who would report on other fishermen who went out to sea to fish.

“They have walkie-talkies and call the bandits when we go out,” he said. “If the bandits rob and steal from us, then they get a commission, a percentage.” 

Franklin said he also spoke to Ryan Roberts, a fisherman who was abducted and returned to his family after a $46,000 ransom was paid.

The reporter said he was also directed by a local journalist to a smuggler who used his coconut oil business as a front for black market trade in guns, drugs, immigrants, and women destined for prostitution.

He said his activity has increased from one trip to three trips per day.

“The first day you arrived, my men called me and said there was a white boy asking lots of questions. They asked whether they should kidnap you,” said ‘Chivo’.

“The crisis in Venezuela has had a great increase in income for the proprietors doing business here in Trinidad,” he said.

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