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Trinidad officers fire on migrant boat; baby dies

February 8, 2022 GMT

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A Venezuelan baby died and the mother was injured over the weekend when Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard officers fired at a boat transporting migrants, authorities from the Caribbean nation said.

The shooting happened Saturday during “security operations” at sea involving the Coast Guard and human traffickers, Prime Minister Keith Rowley said in a statement Sunday. The agency in a news release said the officers fired at the vessel’s engines in self-defense after it was repeatedly ordered to stop and it attempted to ram the Coast Guard vessel.

“The vessel eventually stopped and only then it was discovered that there were illegal migrants on board who had remained hidden and were therefore not seen before,” according to the Coast Guard. The mother then told officers she was bleeding and the baby “was found to be unresponsive.”

The agency said the woman was stabilized and then transported to a hospital. Her condition was not immediately known Monday. The agency did not say how the baby died.

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Venezuela has been going through a deep political, social and economic crisis for years, attributed to a drop in oil prices last decade and mismanagement by socialist governments. Millions of people have fallen into poverty, initially amid a severe shortage of food and medicines and followed by the inability to buy them when stores were restocked due to their diminished purchasing power. The minimum monthly wage is about $2, which inflation continues to eat up.

The crisis has driven people to migrate. The United Nations has estimated that more than 6 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, more than 10% of the population.

Millions have migrated to neighboring Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, but the number of Venezuelans making the treacherous journey further north to seek refuge in the U.S. is rising. In December, U.S. authorities encountered Venezuelans crossing the Mexican border illegally nearly 25,000 times, the second highest nationality after Mexicans. The number was more than double that of only three months earlier and up from only about 200 a year previously.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that some 35,000 Venezuelans have immigrated to Trinidad and Tobago in recent years, but humanitarian organizations say the figure has risen to almost 40,000 in recent months.

A group of U.N. agencies on Monday in a statement said 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 Guaidó, leader of the U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition, on Twitter described the shooting as “unjustified,” while David Smolansky, the commissioner of the secretary general of the Organization of American States for the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis, called on Trinidad and Tobago to investigate the situation.

With the help of Norwegian diplomats, representatives from the opposition and the government of President Nicolás Maduro held talks last year in Mexico City in an effort to find a way out of their country’s crisis. But the negotiations were suspended in October following the extradition to the U.S. of a key Maduro ally.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq on Monday said Secretary-General António Guterres urges both sides to resume the dialogue.