CARACAS – A day after a Venezuelan boat sank en route to Curaçao, the Nicolas Maduro government was still providing no information about the “Venezuelan rafters,” as the group of people on board have come to be known on the social networks.
According to preliminary reports, the boat set sail on Wednesday from the northwestern Venezuelan state of Falcon and sank off the coast of Curaçao’s Koraal Tabak area, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Venezuela.
The Aruba coast guard found on Wednesday four unidentified bodies there, two men and two women, and several media outlets reported that they were Venezuelan citizens.
Curaçao Police spokesman Reginald Huggins told local media on Thursday that if the corpses are of Venezuelans it would be the first time that citizens of that country have drowned illegally attempting to reach the Caribbean island.
He said that over the past few weeks, Curaçao authorities have intercepted several boats from Venezuela carrying people trying to illegally get to the island.
Although the Venezuelan government has kept silent about the case so far, the political opposition has expressed regret over the incident and blamed the Maduro government for the fate of all such “rafters.”
“Showing our sense of solidarity and sadness ... with regard to a (boat) that left Vela de Coro ... carrying approximately 30 people ... with the idea of reaching ... Curaçao,” said Falcon opposition lawmaker Luis Stefanelli, adding that everyone on board the boat was under age 35 and “some of them were minors.”
He added that those Venezuelans “were ... illegal immigrants” and that each of them paid “about $100 to be taken to the island of Aruba,” but the boat “sank, drowning many of them.”
He said that the Venezuelan migrants could have been “manipulated by a ‘coyote,’” as people traffickers are termed, an “extremely serious” situation that he blamed “directly” on the Maduro government.
Meanwhile, the opposition MUD coalition said in a statement that the rafters had died in a “desperate search for a better future far from the dictatorship, and in freedom.”
He called the drowned rafters “new victims of the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro,” adding that “he refuses to open a humanitarian channel, to call fair elections ... to comply with the Constitution and to guarantee that all rights are for all Venezuelans and not for a corrupt elite.”
As a result of Venezuela’s economic crisis, citizens of that country are illegally trying to reach the islands of Bonaire, Curaçao and Aruba with greater frequency, with unofficial estimates placing the number of Venezuelans living illegally on Bonaire at 5,000 and on Curaçao at 20,000.
Aruba Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes recently estimated that out of the approximately 100,000 people living on her island, 12,000 are Venezuelans who are there illegally.