(Trinidad Guardian) Scores of Venezuelan nationals were stranded at the Piarco International Airport last night after a repatriation flight that was due to arrive in T&T from Venezuela was blocked from coming.
The aircraft belonged to Conviasa, a Venezuelan State airline that has been sanctioned by the United States.
The 97 Venezuelan nationals were forced to sleep at the airport as a result.
“What is the problem? Ninety-seven people are here, people with cancer, elderly people, children. They sold all their things and now people have nowhere to go,” said one of the few English-speaking members of the group at the airport.
The group said that for months they had been liaising with this country’s National Security Ministry to return home.
“(Minister of National Security) Stuart (Young) say yes, everything is in order. Why use today, the day the flight was supposed to go to Venezuela to say we can’t go?” another English-speaking Venezuelan national shouted.
A statement by the Ministry of National Security said that the Government of Venezuela had made the request for the repatriation flight and that preliminary approval was granted by the National Security Ministry as the flight was seen as a humanitarian effort.
The statement said when the details were provided by the Venezuelan Government it was discovered that the airline, Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronáuticas y Servicios Aéreos (Conviasa), was under a US sanction.
“Unfortunately in those circumstances, the Ministry of National Security could not grant approval for the aircraft to come to Trinidad and Tobago,” the release said.
The ministry said the request from Venezuela came in the “past week.”
However, the Venezuelan nationals claim the ministry knew that it was a Conviasa flight all along.
“The Government always said it was a Conviasa flight. All flights to Venezuela is Conviasa.”
The National Security Ministry said it has reached out to the US Embassy in Port-of-Spain “to seek guidance”.
The ministry said it will work with the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs “with respect to the possibility of a future repatriation exercise by the Venezuelan Government”.
One Venezuelan national has claimed that many in the group gave up their apartments and jobs in anticipation of returning home and that some even sold their mobile phones to pay for their PCR COVID-19 tests.
“I am now in the street. I am pregnant with two kids I gave up my job and now I don’t know what to do, what is being put in place for us?”
On February 7, 2020, the US Department of Treasury issued the following statement regarding the sanction against Venezuela’s State airline.
“The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today identified the Venezuelan state-owned airline Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronauticas y Servicios Aereos, S.A. (Conviasa) as subject to sanctions as part of the Government of Venezuela, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13884.
Today’s action also identifies the Conviasa fleet of aircraft as blocked property of the Government of Venezuela pursuant to E.O. 13884. Conviasa and its fleet have been blocked since the issuance of E.O. 13884 of August 5, 2019, and today they have been added to the OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals List to ensure strengthened compliance with US sanctions.
“The illegitimate Maduro regime relies on the Venezuelan state-owned airline Conviasa to shuttle corrupt regime officials around the world to fuel support for its anti-democratic efforts,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
“The Trump Administration will not allow Maduro and his proxies to continue stealing from the Venezuelan people and abusing state-owned assets to advance their own corrupt and destabilising activities.”
Conviasa operates as a commercial airline based in Caracas, Venezuela, flying both domestic routes as well as providing service to select international locations.
This action does not prevent the ability of the Venezuelan people to travel, as they can continue to travel on various other carriers not subject to OFAC sanctions. Rather, this action is intended to curtail the Maduro regime’s misuse of the airline.
For instance, the Maduro regime has commandeered Conviasa’s aircraft to promote its own political agenda, including shuttling regime officials to countries such as North Korea, Cuba, and Iran.”