South Florida journalist Erick Martinez Peluffo reports that the early Saturday morning disaster at this goverment-run hotel complex was the result of angry locals resentful of Venezuela's elite who keep boats here on the island of Margarita.
"Apparently a private boat hit and damaged some of the trawling nets/lines of some local fisherman," Peluffo writes. The people didn't want to be responsible and since they are part of an elite in Venezuela, the fisherman felt powerless and reacted violently, burning that boat and some others, the wind apparently did the rest. Some tourists were evacuated from a boat in the dock, and no casualties were reported, only a young girl (tourist) with minor burns in her arms/hands."
Venezuelan news reports quote government officials saying the fires at the Venetur Hotel marina, which started shortly before 4 a.m., were accidental. Peluffo notes that many of the boats at the marina happen to be owned by government officials.
For the most part, foreign cruising vessels quit coming to Margarita years ago as successive populist governments looked other way as pirates attacked and robbed foreign flagged boats. The island lies 25 miles north of the mainland, and in earlier days was a popular stop-over.
Today conditions in Venezuela are worse than ever, with inflation bringing the average monthly wage down to about a dollar. Yes, your read that right.
"So obviously if people don't have the means to put a plate of food on the table, if you own a US $500K boat, something is not right, and social unrest takes toll," Peluffo writes. "Margarita, Roques and other beautiful islands are now 'red zones'."
The U.S. State Department discourages any travel to Venezuela:
Venezuela has one of the world’s highest crime rates, including one of the highest homicide rates. Violent crime – including murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking – is endemic throughout the country. Armed robberies and street crime take place throughout Caracas and other cities, including in areas frequented by tourists. Heavily armed criminals are known to use grenades and assault rifles to commit crimes at banks, shopping malls, public transportation stations, and universities. Criminals may take advantage of power outages to target victims when lights and security alarms are nonfunctional.
Those who cruised Venezuela before the bad times might remember docking at the Hilton. The Venetur hotel used to be a Hilton until it was exappropriated by the Venezuelan government.
Even though most cruisers avoid Venezuelan waters there was a recent exception as reported by the Caribbean Safety and Security Net. In December cruisers in a mono-hull fought off armed pirates with a flare gun:
A monohull with two persons onboard departed Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela for Grenada. At 10 a.m., two miles off the Paria peninsula, and approximately 10 miles east of Cabo Tres Puntas an open fishing boat with six men approached, displaying and firing multiple long guns into the air. The crew immediately altered course and turned offshore. When the pirates came closer the crew fired their flare gun directly at the pirates, and nearly hit them. The pirates, apparently understanding the fire hazard a burning flare would pose to their gasoline fuelled boat turned away, dropped back and made no further approaches. The yacht then headed northwest and made safe port at Porlamar, Margarita, where a report was made to local officials.