The modern-day pirates of the Caribbean are nothing like the ones in the movies. In reality, they’re Venezuelan bandits who smuggle narcotics and children, often hand in hand with corrupt officers from the coast guard of Venezuela and other countries in the region.

The Maduro regime’s mismanagement and oppression have led to electricity blackouts and shortages of food and medicine, causing the breakdown of law and order. As shortages mount, smuggling goods from Trinidad — only 16 kilometers away across the Gulf of Paria — has become an attractive choice for those with the means.

Men pushing a boat into water at night (© Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
Men push a boat out near the town of Rio Caribe in Venezuela in October 2015. (© Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Motorboats that can be used for smuggling have become a prized commodity, according to media reports. Scores of Trinidadian, Guyanese and Surinamese fishermen have been murdered for their boats or forced to hand them over to pirates at gunpoint. Some fishermen have turned from fishing to smuggling food staples and diapers to Venezuela and returning with guns, drugs and gasoline. Others act as eyes and ears for organized criminal gangs.

But something else besides cocaine and gasoline is being trafficked out of Venezuela: women and children. “Because of deteriorating economic conditions in their home country, Venezuelans are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and there has been a large influx of Venezuelans to Trinidad and Tobago in recent years,” according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report. The U.N. estimates that over 5 million Venezuelans will have fled the country by the end of 2019.

People walking down a street guarded by armed police (© Rodrigo Abd/AP Images)
Members of the Venezuelan National Police’s elite Special Action Forces patrol in Caracas in January 2019. (© Rodrigo Abd/AP Images)

The Trump administration has responded to the Venezuelan crisis by working politically and economically to isolate the Maduro regime. The U.S. also has positioned more than 500 metric tons of food and humanitarian supplies on the Venezuelan border and provided nearly $260 million in aid to countries that are supporting displaced Venezuelans.