Increased pirate attacks in the waters between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela show that criminal gangs in the Venezuelan state of Sucre are trying to dominate the drug trafficking route from the country's coast to the Caribbean.
Trinidadian fishermen have suffered constant attacks by Venezuelan criminal groups, according to a recent report by The Telegraph. The attacks were attributed to rising criminality in Venezuela due to the ongoing economic and social crisis. But smuggling has been a way of life for many inhabitants of both countries, separated by just 16 kilometers of ocean.
In recent years, the attacks on fishermen have increased due to the scarcity of essential products in Venezuela. Fishermen have been targeted for robberies, often being stripped of their belongings. Their boat engines have also been stolen in violent attacks.
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Experts consulted by InSight Crime agreed that these pirates are working for two drug trafficking gangs, based in the localities of San Juan de Unare y San Juan de las Galdonas, in the municipality of Arismendi.
Sucre has been a base for drug trafficking for over 10 years. It is currently the fifth most violent state in Venezuela, according to the 2018 report by the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia – OVV), with a homicide rate of 97 per 100,000 inhabitants. "This is related with the expansion of organized crime into these areas to control drug trafficking to the islands and the Caribbean Sea," said the report.
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The objective of these modern-day pirates is to control the smuggling routes from eastern Venezuela. The way they have found to do so is to target fishermen from Venezuela and Trinidad, preventing them from sailing in the waters between the two countries.
This is precisely the route used to move shipments of cocaine and marijuana coming from Colombia, crossing Venezuela and continuing on to the Caribbean islands, OVV sources in the state of Sucre told InSight Crime.
“They steal the engines so fishermen cannot continue sailing in the area where they could witness drug trafficking operations, which now take place in complete impunity," said an OVV representative.
“Two days ago, they stole two engines, they took away the catch from our colleagues and beat them," one fisherman from Río Caribe told InSight Crime on condition of anonymity.
He added that, during 2018, the pirates had stolen 31 engines from the town. "We still have 76 engines but we don't dare go out to sea. The entire coast of the Paria peninsula is a no-go area, it is dominated by the Unare and San Juan gangs," he explained.
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The fisherman emphasized the powerlessness in which his community find themselves: "We went to the judicial police (CICPC) but they did nothing. There is no one to complain to because the same security forces are accomplices of the drug traffickers. And many people from the communities also take part in this crime. The pirates work for the gangs," he said.
A journalist from Sucre, whose identity is also being protected, told InSight Crime that the San Juan de Unare and San Juan de las Galdonas gangs amass enough drug money to buy the collaboration of security forces, especially the Coastal Surveillance Command. "They do not want to fight the drug traffickers of Paria, because the Coast Guard of Güiria only have one boat, which is not enough to patrol the entire area," he added.
On the other hand, these criminal organizations have also recruited fishermen as pirates and lash out at those who have not yet been tempted to join their ranks.
"The pirates have speedboats with powerful engines, allowing them to move drugs, weapons and any other illegal merchandise from Sucre to Trinidad in just a few minutes and, if necessary, subdue any who cross their path by force," said the journalist.
News about massacres and forced disappearances of people, as a result of the struggle between the San Juan de Unare and San Juan de las Galdonas gangs, has also generated fears in Río Caribe. Local sources consulted by InSight Crime agree that the two groups are engaged in a bloody rivalry for control over the local territory and criminal markets.
In 2015, InSight Crime warned of the rise of piracy between the coasts of Trinidad and Venezuela. The organization Oceans Beyond Piracy recorded a 163 percent increase in piracy-related crimes in 2017. At the beginning of 2018, a Bloomberg report also showed how the absence of the Venezuelan state had fostered organized crime in Sucre. But the situation has consistently degenerated into a generalized state of terror among the local population.