THE Prime Minister publicly expressed his sympathy for the family of the Venezuelan infant who was shot dead by a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard (TTCG) intercepting a boatload of smuggled migrants, but he also endorsed the legitimate role of the TTCG in securing TT against an influx of illegal items and individuals.
Dr Rowley spoke of the deep regret of the shooter in this tragedy.
He was addressing the launch of the Maloney Public Swimming Pool on Thursday.
One-year-old Ya Elvis Santoyo was shot on Saturday night in an incident now under investigation by the police in which the TTCG said a Venezuelan boat heading to TT illegally had tried to ram a smaller TTCG boat with coast guardsmen who had tried to shoot its engine in self defence but had inadvertently and tragically hit the baby and wounded his mother Darielvis Sarabia, who was then hospitalised in Trinidad.
The TTCG has also launched an investigation into the incident.
The PM’s 25-minute speech had several references to regret, once saying “sadness” and three times saying “pain.”
Rowley began his speech by thanking the Defence Force and TTCG for going beyond their usual duties to accept responsibility to run the pool in Maloney and help develop communities and young people.
He said the officers could save some youngsters from a path of destruction, and enhance their personal development, sporting ability, chances of joining the armed services, or of saving a life at Paria or Maracas beaches.
Rowley said this was also “a time of sadness” even amid the responsibility to protect TT’s coastline, in an apparent reference to Saturday’s tragedy.
“I want to say to you don’t give up. We cannot give up, and we cannot be distracted.”
Apparently referring to his work as a geologist visiting regional volcanoes in eruption, Rowley said, over the years, he had worked with the Coast Guard in Montserrat, Dominica and St Vincent and had been proud of how they had carried themselves and the national flag.
Rowley said the Trinidad’s south and east coasts have a lot of marine traffic from people disobeying TT’s laws whom the TTCG and Venezuelan Guardian Nacional seek to apprehend.
He said on learning of the baby’s death he had asked the TTCG to communicate with the Guardia Nacional.
“Let them determine among themselves whether our protocols are being followed, and let us be closer in our relationship in the interest of patrolling our borders for the people of TT and the people of Venezuela. That’s the position of the Government of TT.”
Rowley said as the grandfather of two grandsons, he knew the pain of Santoyo’s family on losing their child. He also recalled the pain felt on the tragic deaths of two children of people he personally knew. The PM then expressed the angst surely felt by the coast guardsman involved in the tragedy.
“I don’t know which officer pulled the trigger, but I know that officer would feel the pain of knowing that the result of that action – that legal action, that appropriate action in defending TT – resulted in the killing of that child.
“And to be called a ‘murderer’, I reject it, I reject it and I reject it. These are the challenges of holding office and having authority.”
Rowley added, “But if along the way incidents like this occur, I trust we will be able to deal with it as a people without increasing the pain that we all feel.
“And as we extend our sympathy to those that have been directly affected by the tragedy, we also have to confirm that our borders will remain protected.”
Saying arms and ammunition, women and drugs enter TT illegally by sea, he again vowed that the borders will remain protected by the TTCG.