A recent journalistic investigation shows how a small patch of water between Venezuela’s eastern coast and the shores of Trinidad and Tobago has become a dangerous haven for pirates and criminals smuggling contraband between the two nations, underscoring the consequences of Venezuela’s failure to control the country’s political and economic crisis.
Just 10 miles wide, the Gulf of Paria, which separates the Venezuelan mainland from the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, is now infested with pirates and smugglers who deal in diapers, drugs, weapons, food, wild animals and people, Bloomberg reports.
The report examines how smugglers trade in everything from guns, vodka and gasoline. Despite Venezuela’s massive inflation, gasoline still costs around 40 cents per gallon -- a fraction of the price at Trinidad’s pumps. In Venezuela, diapers and food are hoarded “like bars of gold,” Bloomberg reported.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Contraband
Crippling food shortages have wracked Venezuela since the country’s massive inflation and ensuing street protests, and smugglers in the Gulf of Paria take advantage of the high demand. To cite just one example: A $5 bag of flour in Trinidad goes for $20 in Venezuela.
Smugglers also sell weapons -- many of them provided by the Venezuelan armed forces -- to gangs for tens of thousands of dollars, bribing members of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Boliviariana — GNB) with US dollars and Huggies diapers to traffic guns onto Venezuelan shores, the report says.
Kidnapping is also rampant, and criminals reportedly hold local fishermen for ransom, including one man who was released for $46,000, according to Bloomberg.
Although Venezuelan and Trinidadian foreign ministries held bilateral negotiations in November 2017 to discuss normalizing the flow of goods and people between the Caribbean nation and Venezuela’s mainland, illicit markets have continued to thrive.
InSight Crime Analysis
The booming black markets in the Gulf of Paria are a result of Venezuela's prolonged state of political and economic crisis, which has ravaged one of the biggest countries in South America for several years.
Criminality has skyrocketed in Venezuela as the Nicolás Maduro administration struggles to maintain power amid a spiraling economic and security situation as well as ramped-up international pressure. Now considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world, homicides and kidnapping have run rampant in the country, and Caracas is now considered the world’s deadliest city.
SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profile
Amid the chaos, new organized criminal groups have emerged in the country’s prisons, in the military and on the streets in the form of megabandas and “colectivos” -- pro-government groups armed by the Maduro administration. Many colectivos have reportedly gone rogue.
Even the Maduro administration itself, and those closest to him, have been directly implicated in enabling and participating in criminal activities. Two of Maduro’s nephews, dubbed the “narco nephews,” were convicted in 2016 and later sentenced to 18 years behind bars for plotting to ship 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States.