Piracy on the Coastal Sate of Sucre, Venezuela
"People can't make a living fishing anymore, so they're using their boats for the options that are left; smuggling gas, running drugs, and piracy."
Jose Antonio Garcia, leader, Punta de Araya. Argentina's largest union
"You hear piracy and you think of guys robbing container ships in Africa. But here it's just poor fishermen robbing other poor fisher men."
"It's the same kind of crime we've seen in the streets, but spreading to the sea."
Luis Morales, Sucre lawyer
"There's no way to run when you're stopped dead in the water, so I just started praying, 'God, let them leave without hurting us."
Edecio Marval, 42, fisherman
|Members of the Marval family, who have fallen victim to bandits - who killed three relatives after taking them captive - fish at night in the sea, in an increasingly dangerous trade|
But that wasn't quite what happened. Mr. Marval's boat's motor was taken, along with the night's catch of fish from the Mediterranean, close to their village. And then the men who had embarked on their piracy, other out-of-work fishermen, neighbours in fact, attacked the eight men on Mr. Marval's boat. They killed Edecio's oldest son. As they began to move toward Edecio's teenage nephew one of the pirates shouted out: "No, that's my friend", of the boy he had fished with until last year.
After the pirates left, the surviving Marval family members, lacking their boat motor, sent light flashes into the darkness that enveloped them, weeping at their heartbreaking loss, as the bodies of their murdered loved ones, lying among them, assumed rigor mortis. Once back in Punta de Araya, their home village, police were informed that the attacked fishermen had recognized the leader of the pirates.
They identified El Beta, a 19-year-old, who was supported by forty other men, all of whom lived a half-mile away in another fishing village. El Beta called Flaco Marvel with threats to return and slaughter the entire clan. "Your brother cried like a little bitch when I killed him. Now I'm coming for all of you snitches", he taunted. The recorded voice message was turned over to the police, and the Marvals hunkered down.
They no longer went to the state-run hospital since that area was in the control of El Beta. Their children stopped attending school. And nightly patrols became routine. "It's not safe to leave the house" Tibisay Marval, whose son was killed, stated. The night the clan decided to come face to face with El Beta, Flaco noted a soldier's presence with drawn Kalashnikov rifle beneath a street light and the streets filled with villagers hoping the pirates had been taken by the coast guard.
But as they pushed in closer they saw soldiers placing three men on a cargo truck. Then the villagers protested the wrong men had been taken; they had apprehended honest fishermen, who were then freed. When the soldiers left Punta de Araya, the Marval women received warnings from the El Beta neighbourhood by friends that 15 gang members were on the verge of attacking them.
|Members of the Marval family, who patrol at night while other members of their family fish at sea, respond to what appeared to be the start of an attack by pirate gang leader 'El Beta' in Punta de Araya|
Homemade handguns and rifles were brought out of hiding. Smoking cocaine-laced marijuana through a glass pipe fashioned from a fluorescent light bulb, they went on patrol for hours with pauses to smoke from the glass pipe. "We just have to kill these thugs, and then we can go back to fishing like we always did", said Flaco.
The coastal state of Sucre was once the world's fourth-largest tuna-catching venue, where the fishing industry thrived. Like any other industry across Venezuela, the fishing has collapsed. Now, out-of-work fishermen form gangs to prey on those still fishing in the open sea, to steal their catch and their motors tying up their victims, throwing them overboard, sometimes shooting them.
|Villagers carry the remains of nine slain men from a fishing family to the cemetery in Cariaco, Sucre state, Venezuela. Five law enforcement officers were charged with storming the village and killing these men, who were widely thought to have belonged to a gang|