Venezuela demands probe after baby dies in migrant boat incident

A baby was killed and the mother was injured when Trinidad and Tobago coastguard officers fired on a boat transporting migrants.

A Trinidad and Tobago coast guard interceptor vessel stops to search a boat during a patrol
A coastguard interceptor vessel stops to search a boat during a patrol in 2011 [File: Andrea De Silva/Reuters]

Venezuela has demanded Trinidad and Tobago launch an “exhaustive investigation” into a deadly incident at sea, in which a baby perished and his mother wounded on board a boat carrying about 40 migrants.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Keith Rowley said the incident occurred on Saturday when coastguard officers attempted to shoot the vessel’s engines after repeatedly ordering to stop during what the island nation’s authorities called “security operations” involving human traffickers.

In a news release, the coastguard said the shooting was in “self-defence” and was meant to prevent a boat ramming.

Trinidadian officials said the baby, identified as Yaelvis Santoyo Sarabia, died in the arms of the mother, Darielvis Sarabia. Sarabia suffered gunshot wounds and was taken to a hospital in stable condition. Officials did not say how the baby died.

On Monday, Caracas called for a probe “to clarify the facts surrounding this fatal incident”.

Trinidadian authorities said the vessel was travelling along a common route for Venezuelans fleeing their poverty-stricken homeland.

Venezuela has been locked in social and economic crises fuelled by international sanctions imposed after President Nicolas Maduro won a second term in 2018 elections dismissed by the Organization of American States (OAS), the United States, and the European Union as illegitimate.

The United Nations has estimated that more than six million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, accounting for more than 10 percent of the population. At least 40,000 Venezuelans live in Trinidad and Tobago.

A group of UN agencies on Monday said in a statement they were “deeply saddened” by Saturday’s event.

“No migrant child should ever die, whether traveling with their parents or alone. No mother wants to put the lives of her children at risk on a small ship in the deep sea, unless she has no other option,” said Jean Gough, regional director for UNICEF in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Two in three Venezuelans on the move are women and children. This tragic event is a stark reminder that they are the most vulnerable among the vulnerable. They deserve special attention, protection and safety – anywhere and anytime.”

Juan Guaido, leader of the US-backed Venezuelan opposition, on Twitter described the shooting as “unjustified”.

David Smolansky, an exiled opposition leader who coordinates the OAS’ response to Venezuela’s migrant crisis, also called on Trinidad and Tobago to investigate the situation.

Rowley, the Trinidadian prime minister, said he had spoken to Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and expressed the “deepest sympathy on my own behalf and of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago with respect to the unfortunate loss of life of the baby”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies