7 Venezuelans convicted of cocaine trafficking in 2016

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Hayden St Clair-Douglas –

SEVEN Venezuelan men have been convicted of trafficking 98 kilogrammes of cocaine after they were held in the waters off the north coast of Trinidad by the Coast Guard in 2016.

The seven were among eight Venezuelans held, but one died before the case went to trial last year before Justice Hayden St Clair-Douglas.

On January 30, the seven were convicted and will be sentenced on March 20.

They are Victor Jose Careno, Oscar Thomas Ruiz Colmarenaz, Dionys Andres Marval Salazar, Alexis Caldea Lopez, Pablo Rafael Marval Rodriguez, Saul Elia Waldrop, and Jose Florentino Alcala Carrio.

The eighth man, Jose Gregorio Marval Salazar, died of cancer.

In 2021, his attorney Mario Merrittt successfully obtained a court order for his return to Venezuela for palliative care. Salazar and the others were denied bail and held on remand. When his health worsened, his attorneys tried to secure his bail, which was eventually granted. But he was unable to access it and in July 2020, he had emergency surgery at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mt Hope. Doctors there gave him months to live. St Clair-Douglas said the prosecution told the court the State would formally discontinue the case against Salazar, but up until the close of evidence, nothing had been filed.

The trial of the remaining men took place at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain and on January 30, the judge gave his verdict. It was a judge-only trial.

It was the State’s case that on July 2, 2016, after midnight, Coast Guard officers were patrolling the waters when they encountered a pirogue, the El Libertador. The occupants of the boat began throwing white packets into the sea when they saw the coastguardsmen.

The Coast Guard ordered the men to stop, but the pirogue rammed into the Coast Guard vessel three times, leading the coastguardsmen to shoot out three of the pirogue’s four outboard engines.

The El Libertador was commandeered and some of the officers boarded it while the others retraced their route to retrieve the packages which had been thrown out at sea.

The men, the boat and the packages were taken to the Coast Guard base and the police were called in.

Tests identified that the packages contained cocaine. There were 84 packages in all.

The men’s defence was that the white bags which contained the individual packages of cocaine were never on their boat. They claimed they were out at sea looking for a lost boat and the Coast Guard attacked the El Libertador and put the drugs in their pirogue.

None of the men testified at their trial, at which they were assisted by several interpreters.

In analysing the evidence, St Clair-Douglas said he was satisfied of the guilt of each man, returning guilty verdicts for all except Salazar.

Merritt, Kuren Hall and Randall Raphael represented the eight men. Destinee Gray and Solange Devenish prosecuted.