<strong>Valentina</strong> Oropeza


“Daddy, I’m skinny. I want to go to Trinidad”

The story was originally published in Prodavinci on Friday, December 11, 2020, with the support of the Pulitzer Center.

Image composed by Indira Rojas

The government of Trinidad and Tobago deported 16 Venezuelan children and their mothers in two boats on Sunday, November 22, after arresting them upon entry without visas. The following day they returned to Trinidad and remained isolated in quarantine due to the coronavirus. The defense alleges that they seek protection for humanitarian reasons and asks that they be reunited with the parents who are in Trinidad. However, Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s government considers them illegal migrants and demands they return to Venezuela. At least six of the children have protection measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Trinidadian justice has to make a decision.

My son, Fabián Jesús Uricare Hernández, is 12 years old and alone. He is one of 16 children who arrived in Trinidad by boat from Venezuela and were deported. After returning to Trinidad, they were quarantined for covid-19. Even though some of his cousins ​​were on the boat, he’s alone because his mom and I aren’t there.

The children arrived in Trinidad for the first time on Tuesday, November 22. The boats left La Barra, the delta where Orinoco river reaches the Caribbean sea. When they arrived at six or seven in the morning, policemen were patrolling the area and grabbed the children. They were taken to a police station in Erin, far from Port of Spain, where we were staying.

The first day we couldn’t see Fabián because it was too late, but we took his wet clothes and bag. A police lady told us to arrive early the following day, she would be on duty. She helped us and was very kind. When we got there she let the boy out. His mom and I were able to hug him and we took a picture together. As I saw him, I realized that he was skinnier than usual. We gave him hope that he would stay here, in Trinidad, and gave him new clothes.

The second day we brought him food, fruits, candy, water and soda. He wasn’t scared. He said he loved us and missed us very much and asked for food, but not rice or spaghetti, he wanted french fries and fried chicken. We brought him grapes, apples and pears. In Venezuela these fruits are impossible to afford, but here you can purchase them. Five apples cost 20 TT, about 8 dollars. We spent more on the ticket to Erin, 80 or 90 TT, about 10 dollars. It took five cars and two hours. That day Fabián said: “I feel good but I am in prison.”

The third day they let us deliver things to him. Some children had diarrhea because they were drinking bad tap water. Fabián also got it. We brought him medicines, pills, and stomach saline solution. He wanted to go to the bathroom but it was too dirty. “Daddy, I can’t sit there,” he said. I told him we couldn’t visit the next day, on Sunday, because transport was difficult.

On Sunday they transferred the children to the dock where arrivals applied for legal entry. It was pouring rain. “They are going to deport them,” other parents said. Suddenly, we learned that they were going to send the kids back to Venezuela. I took pictures of the boat. I sent the photo to a friend. “Damn, man, if the boat is standing there it will sink because it sure has a hole,” he said. After a while, a person started drawing out water from the boat. I made a video. I have a photo that shows the boats and the guy who brought them. He said that the engines were bad, that the policemen broke them and then barely fixed them. He told me that as soon as they put out to sea, the engines began to fail. They had to be towed.

I was scared because it was raining hard. It also made me angry. Why did they have to throw them into the sea like this? They are children. My wife went to speak with the lawyer handling the case. Other parents and representatives also called her. A few days before, she was able to take a Venezuelan girl and some children out of the quarantine and into the legal migration process. That’s when everything exploded, everyone found out.

When we decided that Fabián would come to Trinidad by boat, I told him to be calm; it would be a ride. He is very strong and intelligent, he understands everything you say to him. Although I sent him with people I knew, on the one hand I wanted to bring him and on the other I did not. I told him that I would visit in December and he replied: “Daddy, I want to go to Trinidad because I’m skinny. What I really want is to get fat and for you to buy me things. Either I go or you bring me with you.” I told his mother that Fabián wanted to be pampered. He missed us and wanted to see us. In Venezuela he was with some cousins, twins the same age, and they went to Trinidad.

A cousin of mine, another guy and I, spent all night trying to reach someone in La Barra to find out how they were doing. We did not sleep, we called from the street because we didn’t go home. The boy from the other boat that towed theirs was going to La Barra de Macareo. I called some friends and told them to let me know when the boat arrived because my son was there. 

They called me and said that indigenous people helped the children. The guy who took them too. They provided food and water, and put them in stilt house, indigenous dwellings raised by sticks above the water. The kids were treated better where people had nothing than in a place where people had lots. In an indigenous town where they only have fish. A kilogram of Blanca Flor wheat flour costs ten dollars in La Barra, the guy said. A kilo of maize flour costs five dollars. If you go to Tucupita from La Barra you have to pay the guards so they don’t confiscate whatever you have, and be vigilant of thieves so they don’t steal from you.

The boy who took them is Venezuelan, very humane, a good person. He has helped many people reach Trinidad. We video call. “Don’t you remember me? We were motorcycle taxi drivers together in Tucupita.” He told me they had to hide in the bush for a while, as the Bolivarian National Guard passed by.

Depending on the engines and the weight of the passengers, one leaves Tucupita by boat and spends at least two hours reaching La Barra. Sometimes it takes up to eight hours. In La Barra the water is dark. There are river and sea fish. Fishermen would go in eight or nine boats and indigenous people would also be there. But lack of gasoline means no indigenous people. This year, the Bolivarian Guard knocked down the stilt house. They tied ropes to the wood columns, and knocked them down with their engines, because those who crossed into Trinidad took refuge there. I think they did it so people wouldn’t hide.

From La Barra you can see the red light of a lighthouse that seems to be in the middle of the sea and the reflection of Trinidad lights. There is a sunken ship in Venezuelan waters. That point is called Macareo. When you reach the beach in Trinidad you go to the bush. Then a friend in a car picks you up. For that trip, from Venezuela to Trinidad, they charge between 250 to 300 dollars.

I was born in San Félix, Bolívar, but lived in Tucupita since I was eight years old. I was a taxi driver, had three cars: a Nissan, a Baby Camry and a Hyundai. I put them to work as taxis. But when the government sold the tires and batteries, they never gave us that benefit because we didn’t join the government and were a private cooperative. Then everything got more expensive and more difficult. My savings ran out. I sold a car and bought a washing machine and a small fridge. One of the cars was dismantled, without tires or battery. And the other is my mom and dad’s, so they don’t have to walk. They are not that old but they are alone. We are three brothers and we all came to Trinidad.

My wife and I have three children: Fabián, 12, Susé, 7, and Sebastián, 2. Susé and Sebastián stayed in Venezuela with their grandmother, an old woman, while we made enough money. I have three more children, the oldest is 18 and she is here with me. I came first, with the idea of ​​working and going back. I only brought a bag with work clothes, pants and shorts.

As soon as I got my papers in line, I went to Venezuela to see my children. I really missed them. When I arrived in Trinidad in 2018, my first salary was 1,000 TT a week, which is about 120 dollars. I worked as a bricklayer and earned 480 dollars a month. I sent 50 a week, enough to support my six children, wife, and parents. Everyone was able to eat. The money was enough for me to send four tires and a battery to Venezuela by boat. Now I earn more but can’t afford everything.

The same people who took the children to La Barra brought them back to Trinidad on Monday, November 23. They were isolated upon arrival because of covid-19. They told us the kids would be out in 14 days. That deadline passed this Tuesday (December 8). We thought they were going to release them, because they got three covid-19 tests and all were negative. But quarantine would last another week, they told us.

We do not know how the children are, we have not seen them. We do not know if they feed them the food we provide. I have brought my son his cornflakes, cans of tuna, bread, sweets, cookies. You get to the door, hand over the things, and leave. You can’t see them, not even from a distance.

A cousin has his wife and three children there. He spoke to them three or four days ago. They sometimes give them spicy food, his wife said. They do it on purpose. They don’t care that they are children.

When we asked why we had to wait another week, they told us that a girl had a deportation order because her mother has no record. Fabián’s mother and I have papers in Trinidad. She entered legally, with her passport, and I have my UNHCR registration. I am in the government registry with my working permit.

I’m just asking that my son isn’t locked up as a criminal anymore. At least let us see him from a distance or through a glass, allow us to talk to him on the phone. I want to tell him: “What do you need, son? I’ll bring it to you”.

Jesús Uricare, 38 years old

Father of Fabián Uricare, one of the 16 children deported by the government of Trinidad and Tobago.