The Venezuelans of Chaguanas

The town of Chaguanas in Central Trinidad has long been a bustling centre for the conduct of business, commerce, sport and leisure. Since achievement of borough status in 1990, It has grown in stature for its contributions to national life and is home to over 84,000 burgesses.

In recent years, Chaguanas has also become home to a high number of Venezuelan migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers who now contribute to the key activities that set Chaguanas apart as a unique place to live, work, and play.

In this series of articles, with support from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, CIJN journalists explore the contributions of this relatively new group of residents in the areas of business and commerce and music and sport. We also examine some of the initial and lingering settlement challenges.

Sport and Music Bring Hope to Refugees and Migrants in Trinidad

The small, quiet Maha Sabha Street in Felicity, Chaguanas, wakes up every Sunday morning to a chorus of children playing at Invaders Recreation Ground. The small circular field used predominantly for people playing cricket or football and has a steady flow of exercisers walking its perimeter, is hidden behind narrow roads and congested villages. It’s a maze to get there to the outsider, but Google Maps helps. On any given Sunday, more than a hundred boys and girls attend the recreation ground to learn the sport of cricket. The camp is organised and run by Central Sports Club, a popular cricket club from the Chaguanas borough that plays at the highest level of domestic cricket competition.

Challenges Aplenty

When sailing on the inter-island ferry between Trinidad and Tobago, bending the northwestern peninsula of Trinidad, passengers feel the strength of the sea’s power. In that swathe of salt water and currents, where the Güiria and Western Peninsula almost kiss, seacraft, large and small, are tossed around Las Bocas del Dragón (Mouths of the Dragon – De Bocas in T&T English Creole). 

The sea crossing between Trinidad’s north western peninsula and the Peninsula de Paria known popularly in T&T as “ de Bocas”

It is a middle passage that was crossed skilfully, in the face of danger, by indigenous people. Spanish colonisers exited Venezuela through the Bocas del Serpiente, into the Bocas del Dragon, and into open waters, then to Trinidad and Margarita (Spanish Trinidad – Morales Padrón). 

Members of Simón Bolívar’s revolutionary army executing attacks on the “realistas” from Trinidad’s islet Chacachacare (source). Trinidad historian Michael Anthony writes that Christopher Columbus was hesitant to sail through the Bocas on his third voyage to the “Índias”. For the last ten years, it has been crossed daily by Venezuelans seeking asylum, refuge, and better economic opportunities in Trinidad and Tobago. 

The crossing and what it implies have not become any less treacherous.