Seventy Trinidad and Tobago citizens are stranded in Margarita, a Venezuelan territory, and want to come home.
But National Security Minister Stuart Young says the Government cannot extract T&T citizens from other countries affected by COVID-19 once those countries have closed their borders.
Young said he received reports yesterday that there are 70 T&T citizens in Margarita, claiming they have been abandoned by the T&T Government.
Venezuela has reportedly confirmed 42 cases of COVID-19 and has implemented a nationwide quarantine.
The country has also closed its airports to international traffic, in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
One citizen, Jagdesh Pramsook, who spoke with the Express, said he arrived in Margarita on March 8 to visit his wife and had plans to leave on Monday, but with the airports now closed, he is trapped on the island.
He said he has very little money and limited access to clean water and supplies.
“According to information we are receiving here, the government said they only had gasoline for two weeks. Apparently, the gasoline in Margarita is coming from the mainland. They are rationing the gasoline right now,” he said.
Pramsook has two sons in Trinidad while his daughter-in-law and grandchildren are in Caracas.
He says his only wish is to have his family all together in Trinidad.
Pramsook and his wife are currently staying with friends in Porlamar, Margarita, approximately 25 minutes from General Santiago Marino International Airport.
The situation there is as if the country has declared martial law, he said.
“We use to get water twice a week, now it’s only once a week. According to the governor of Margarita, there are no COVID-19 cases here, but right now, we are in quarantine.
“You can only go out once you have on your mask and gloves. You cannot go into any cars or buses without those protective items. If you don’t have on these items, the police and military is out and about to ensure you follow the rules. You cannot go into any supermarket or pharmacy without them on.
“Regarding food items, every day is less and less because both borders are closed right now. Colombia closed its borders, Brazil closed its borders, and this is where Venezuela was getting most of its food items. This is causing prices to double and triple. Everything is in US dollars.
I really don’t know how I’m going to make it. Every day, I spending $10, $20 or $30 US dollars just to get the basics. I also have no way of getting money from outside.
“Right now, you can’t even get a taxi to take you to the airport. You have to call someone you know who has a car that will take you because mostly everyone is indoors. Drivers may be reluctant to take you because of the gas shortage since no one has any idea how long that will last,” he said.
Pramsook said, through his tour guide, he made contact with the Trinidad and Tobago Embassy in Caracas to find a way back home, but “so far we have not received any information”.
The worried father, who works as a security guard, says he does not know if he will still have a job when he comes back to Trinidad.
The Express contacted the travel agency on Wednesday and spoke with one of their agents, Alvaro Faura, about the Trinidadian citizens stranded in Venezuela.
He said, “We are trying to get that information today (Wednesday). We have to find out how many Trinidadian passengers we have in Venezuela. So we will get that information around 1 p.m. Right now, no flights can leave Venezuela. All the flights leaving or coming in from Venezuela are cancelled until April 17.”
The Express on Thursday also spoke to Navarro’s manager, Phillip Navarro, who said he knew very little about the situation.
Navarro did not know how many Trinidadian nationals were on the flight and did not know when the passengers were supposed to return.
He said another group had chartered the flight for the passengers, but he did not know the name of group.
“To be quite honest, the operators of the tour who sent them there, I was waiting for them to come and tell me something about it. We don’t know have any information. It is another group that chartered their flight for them,” he said.
Navarro made it clear they had no passengers stuck in Venezuela.
He said, “We were informed that the flights were going to be...that there was a good chance that things would be stopped, so they should reconsider going, and all of our passengers did that.”
The Express also reached out to the Rutaca Airlines branch in Trinidad on Wednesday to get more information on the number of Trinidadian nationals trapped in Venezuela.
An employee who did not want to give their name said, “That’s what we are arranging right now. We have a manager of Rutaca in Venezuela. He is fixing up all that and he is organising that right now. We tried to bring them in, but the Venezuelan president said no, all is locked down; no planes coming in or leaving.”
Stuart: ‘Nothing we can do’
National Security Minister Stuart Young said yesterday at a news conference there is no way the T&T Government can intervene.
“There is nothing that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago can do. Venezuela has decided to shut its borders, and airlines are not being allowed to fly in. I am emphasising that there is nothing that the Government can do in those circumstances.
“Unfortunately, it is a live situation and it continues to evolve. We will do as much as we can within the parameters of sovereign countries taking decisions to close their borders,” he said.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley also noted several airlines have grounded their aircraft—Lufthansa has grounded 700 planes from its fleet of 763 while Delta Airlines has grounded 300 planes.
In these circumstances, Young said, nationals in countries where airlines are no longer operating will have to stay put.
He advised nationals who find themselves stuck in other countries to reach out to their embassies so there will be a record of where they are and how they can be contacted.
But Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday urged the Government to do more.
Speaking during a news conference, Persad-Bissessar said T&T has a responsibility to its citizens.
“They are saying that no airlines are flying, but we have an airline,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar suggested a Caribbean Airlines plane be sent to Margarita to collect T&T nationals there. She noted other countries, including the United States, have evacuated their citizens from affected countries in the same manner.
“If we don’t take care of our nationals, we can’t expect someone else to do that. There may be some plausible reason why that cannot be done, but I don’t think we should just throw our hands up and say that is all the Government can do. We should explore whether that is a feasible plan of action.”