Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has issued an apology following a controversial statement posted to the Office of the Prime Minister’s (OPM) Facebook page on Tuesday.
The statement linked the murder of teenager Ashanti Riley to the drowned Venezuelan migrants.
The post, which has since been deleted, started by expressing remorse to teenage murder victim Riley’s family but also commented on the tragedy that led to some Venezuelans drowning while trying to cross the border to Trinidad and Tobago.
“To Ashanti’s family and all other members of families who experience this unspeakable hurt, I share your pain. Our grief comes in double doses. As we bury our dead, we continue to receive updated news of the tragic loss of many lives off the coast in Venezuela,” Rowley said in the post.
“But do you see agents of the OAS, our Opposition and other Trinidadian and Venezuelan imps and agents are lying in the face of the available information and evidence that we have? These imps have now been pushing a narrative that these illegals and their criminal traffickers reached Trinidad but our authorities here turned them back and that is why they drowned in waters off the coast of Venezuela at Guiria. This is their lie!”
The Prime Minister also denied that the T&T Coast Guard met with the group of migrants.
“Our Coast Guard never saw or interacted with these traffickers and their cargo. These liars who operate in Venezuela and in Trinidad and Tobago now know that THEY are now to be held criminally accountable, not only for encouraging Venezuelans to break the law in trying to penetrate our borders but actually, physically arranging their dangerous transport and illegal reception in Trinidad,” the Prime Minister said.
“The law will take its course in every instance in Trinidad and Tobago but in the meantime we advise all, including local do-gooders and the international press and agencies, to cease and desist from encouraging and exposing ordinary Venezuelans to risk their lives in the waters between our two nations.
“It might appear to some to be a short journey but these waters are very dangerous and they should not risk their lives nor their children’s future to come to Trinidad and Tobago, illegally, where currently the borders are closed in a pandemic and the only legal way to enter is by way of an application through a visa.”
He added, “Currently, we, the people of the tiny nation of Trinidad and Tobago, located in the mouth of the Orinoco River of Venezuela, are hosting just over 16,000 registered Venezuelan migrants who are protected in neighbourliness, under the authority of the Government and the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.
“We, the Government, receive no help from any agency to look after these migrants, many of whom are relatively recent arrivals who entered or were trafficked to our country illegally. Nonetheless, last year, in empathy, we registered them all and allow them to try and make an honest living within our borders. Most of them pursue this path offered to them.
“However, regardless of the political or economic affairs in Venezuela, or any other territory, all persons interacting with Trinidad and Tobago must do so under an understanding that we all do so in strict accordance with the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.”
The post was described as “insensitive” and “distasteful” by many social media users.
Leader of the main opposition, United National Congress (UNC) Kamla Persad-Bissessar also weighed in on the matter and described the statement as “unimaginably shameful.”
In his apology, Rowley said – “The previous post should have been written as two separate statements and was intended for publication on the Prime Minister’s personal social media account. I regret and apologize to all for the distress caused by the post.”