WILLEMSTAD (Reuters) – Four Venezuelans attempting to reach the Dutch Antilles island of Curacao despite a travel ban by Caracas, died when their boat broke apart, authorities and family members of the passengers said on Wednesday.
Citizens of crisis-stricken Venezuelan routinely travel to the more prosperous Curacao in search of work or staple products that are unavailable amid the collapse of Venezuela’s socialist economic system.
President Nicolas Maduro last week ordered a halt to all air and sea travel to the islands of Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba, in order to prevent smuggling of Venezuelan goods by what he called “mafias.”
Two women and two men were “found on the beach this morning” Reginald Huggins of the Curacao police told local media.
“This was not a crime, they were not murdered.”
The boat left from the western coast of Venezuela but broke apart several miles before reaching Curacao, said a Venezuelan family member of one of the passengers on board who survived.
“An enormous wave broke the boat in two – in fact it was carrying too many passengers,” said the family member, who asked not to be identified.
Curacao’s government criticized the travel ban, saying in a statement that the “unilateral closure of the border with Venezuela does not fit with the search for better relations with our neighbour.”
Venezuela’s heavy subsidies for consumer goods, most notably fuel, have for years fuelled contraband to neighbouring nations. Maduro says such contraband is driving chronic product shortages, while his critics insist the country’s state-led economic model is to blame.
(Reporting by Umpi Welvaart in Willemstad, Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo, Venezuela, and Sailu Urribarri in Jacksonville, editing by Brian Ellsworth and Grant McCool)