We welcome with a sense of great relief the return home of women and children whose husbands and fathers have been thrown into jail in Caracas under rather disturbing circumstances. We can only imagine the horror that they have been through in being cast adrift under uncertain circumstances in a country in whose language they are not fluent and which is itself in the throes of serious and ongoing civil disturbance.
However, there is still the very worrying situation of the eight Trinidadian men who remain in jail, three of whom are imams.
While we have no intention of second-guessing the Venezuelan law enforcement authorities on the merits of the charges laid against our fellow nationals, including the serious accusation of plotting to overthrow the Venezuelan government, we remain concerned about the level of representation being made on their behalf.
The men have repeatedly asserted that they were in Caracas for the routine business of securing visas to travel to the Umrah pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia when they were bundled off to jail. What has followed, they say, has been a nightmare scenario. According to one of the accused, Imam Hamza Mohammed, all eight men were confined with four others in a single cell with one toilet and bath. None, he said, has been out in the sunlight since their arrest.
Attorney Nafeesa Mohammed who has been central to mediation and representation from Trinidad, has said the efforts on their behalf are ongoing through the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and National Security. We urge our officials to spare no effort in ensuring that our nationals have effective representation. If there is no evidentiary basis for their arrest, they should not have to languish in a Caracas cell.
In the meantime, however, the situation highlights the need for domestic processing facilities for visas to Saudi Arabia. In this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a decisive role to play in representing the interests of all nationals, especially the Muslim community whose need for travel to that country is significant and continuous.
It is onerous in the extreme that our nationals, whose religious obligations require them to travel to Saudi Arabia should have to incur the cost and inconvenience of going to another country, especially one that is unstable, in order to secure a visa.
It is quite possible that the terrible experiences of this particular group could have a negative impact on travel to Mecca which would be unfortunate, given Islamic doctrine.
While it is perfectly understandable for all the ministryís efforts to be focused right now on representing the eight jailed nationals, the governmentís next priority must be to work with representatives of the Islamic community to develop some consensus position for lobbying the Government of Saudi Arabia to locate a visa office in this country.
Oil and gas are not the only interests that T&T and Saudi Arabia share. Even before the explosion of our mutual petro interests, our people have been engaged in common spiritual pursuits. This is an important relationship that needs to be respected and protected.