The Mouth
of the Dragon

A documentary poem

By Marielba Núñez

Immersed in a humanitarian crisis, Venezuela is experiencing a forced migration: millions of people are looking for a chance to escape from a country where the access to food and medicine is more difficult each day.

One of the routes of this migration is the small strait that separates the population of Güiria in eastern Venezuela by sea from the neighboring island of Trinidad.  People cross this way in simple and small boats known as peñeros. Although it is a very brief journey, it is necessary to navigate across a channel of turbulent waters. Already in the 15th century, this channel crossing was so dangerous for sailors that it was christened by colonizer Christopher Columbus as “La Boca del Dragón” (“The Mouth of the Dragon”). 

In April and May of 2019, two peñeros with tens of migrants from Venezuela were shipwrecked on that trip to Trinidad. A total of 60 people disappeared, mostly adolescent women, and it is feared that they have been victims of human trafficking. 

Mystery surrounds the story like a shroud. 

Dozens of similar incidents have occurred around the Venezuelan coast in recent years, which have left more than 270 missing persons.

Their relatives do not cease their efforts to find them and demand an answer from the authorities.

La Boca
del Dragón

The Mouth of the Dragon

Oceanographic characteristics of the flow in Boca de Dragón, Venezuela

The Boca de Dragón channel [where dreams die] is an [infinite] 11 km wide marine extension that separates [by secrets abysses] Venezuela from the island of Trinidad and connects [god-loved]  Gulf of Paria to the Caribbean Sea.

It is characterized by a tectonic depression of more than 200 meters deep.

Memory of La Salle Foundation for Natural Sciences, 2008.

It is not your task to have the answers, they told me

It is not my task, but I am torn by the questions

questions that can't be answered

by measurements or graphics.

We know that these waters are unusually sweet
that in them the Orinoco fights a portion to the ocean
and on its arrival it rises from the depths
the misunderstood, 
secrets that we keep looking for,
tireless, among the waves of this meeting.

My question then is whether there are prophetic territories,
whether in the beginning of time
the horror of certain precipices was already written,
the pain for those who never returned was already visible,
like a memory of the future.


They said that an event terrible and recent had occurred to open the way in Paria.

The rocks that in the mountain range in endless successions

look out over the waters from the mainland to the most southern tip of the island of Trinidad,

[the land desired by so many,] 

the Mouths of the Dragons and the direction and construction of the mountain range of Paria and Trinidad, everything makes us believe that the indigenous tradition was true and not too remote the [monstrous] event.

Giovanni Battista Agostino Codazzi: Resumen de la Geografía de Venezuela, 1841.

August 13, 1498

"Serene and very high
and very powerful..."

[I called it Holy Island 

and I also called it Land of Grace
even though I didn't know the provenance
of that angry current that expels freshwater puffs.

I saw the twenty-four
black-haired aboard a large canoe
on the slippery dark water.

They returned to land to the place
I wanted to call Gardens
but that will continue being Güiria
for the rest of the centuries.

I called Paria the Island of Grace,
but to this strait,
to this angry piece of water,
I gave the name of fear
the name of horror and senselessness]

I found a big fight between the fresh water flowing out to sea and the salt water preventing the sea from entering the gulf, so strong and fearful that it raised a large hill, like a high mountain, with such an enormous noise, which was frightening

[to the already frightened

to fugitives without a safe haven

to travelers orphaned by land]

and at that moment I said that if we escaped from there, we could make the case that we had freed ourselves from the Mouth of the Dragon

[from the mouth of the monster

from the mouth of the eternal]

hence the name.

Fragment of Christopher Columbus's letter to the Catholic Monarchs on his third voyage to America.


Washington Irving: The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, 1828

[for passengers who decide crossing the sea in humble dinghys in boats
whose destiny does not resist a blow]

Who saw you pass around ancient abysses 
over a turbulent, foamy and roaring sea?

Who imagined the terrors of moving blindly

no maps nor lights

only guided by desire

the will of the exhauted?

The departure time is already set

The hour in which the peñero will line up towards silence
and his pointed nose will cut the violet water of the pier.

The itinerary is written on stones.

The journey to the silence is just beginning.

"It's like being surrounded by walls of water".

We name the dragon when there are no words left

We know that it was born from the bowels of the earth
(her last son)
then sank into the depths of the ocean

It has fifty heads.

And from each of them comes a black tongue.

On the shoulders of the Typhoon
it sets fire and burns everything in its path
only crying remains.

Hesiod told us that the voices of dragons
were terrible
they were the very voices of the gods.


He says: She's alive

She is alive
because they haven't found her dead.
She is alive because they have not told me that she is dead.

That's why he doesn't cry
there is no sadness on his face
just calm.

The helicopter only flew an hour

it was very valuable

each flight hour is worth $ 8,000
said the mayor.

That's why the search only lasted an hour.

For me she is alive.
She is alive
because they haven't found her dead.


Anonymous call

Look ma'am,
I am complying with letting you know
that your daughter is drowned.
Your daughter is dead.

Look ma'am
I am fulfilling
with taking away
the breathing
all oxygen
that fits in your lungs
with these few words
with this sentence.


We did not find anything

We saw absolutely nothing,
no evidence,
not only of bodies but no object
no article of clothing,
no shoe
nor sandal
not a pinch of gasoline

from the boat.

Not a piece of cloth
not a backpack that floated
between transparent plastics
like false jellyfish.

Not a broken life jacket.

Nothing is the memory
of their passage
by the ocean.

It has no name 

It has no name what one is feeling seven months later. It has no name. This not knowing. Whether they eat, whether they died. Whether they sleep in a bed at night or whether they have shipwreck nightmares in the dragon's mouth. We know nothing.


The unspeakable. We are adrift how do you say. We don't know where the troubled waters lead us, how far can we dive under these surfaces, if fearsome reptiles swim here of dark and cold skin, like oblivion.


About The Mouth
of the Dragon

The depth and extension of the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis, as well as the systematic censorship and persecution of freedom of expression practiced by the authoritarian government of Venezuela, make necessary to search for new ways of narrating what is happening in my country.

From that search La Boca del Dragón was born. The words try to keep alive the memory of these migrants of uncertain destiny who faced unimaginable dangers in search of hope. 

Marielba Núñez
November 2021

More about the documentary references of this work

  • The scientific text Características oceanográficas del flujo en Boca de Dragón, Venezuela was written by Fernando Rincón, Yrene Astor, Frank Muller-Karger, Ramón Varela and Ana Lucía Odriozola and can be found in the 2008 La Salle Foundation for Natural Sciences Report, in the website:
  • The text cited under the hashtag #CasoGüiria was not written for a social network, actually belongs to a photograph of an offline text, which was disseminated as part of the campaign of searching for the missing in the shipwrecks that occurred on the journey between Trinidad and Venezuela on April and May of 2019.
  • The description of Paria and the references to its mythical origin were taken from Giovanni Battista Agostino Codazzi's classic book Resumen de la Geografía de Venezuela, which was published in 1841.
  • Christopher Columbus's letter to the Catholic Monarchs on his third voyage, as well as the diary of on board that tells of the incidents of that journey, cited here, have been fundamental sources to build what has been the imaginary of the Gulf of Paria to this day.
  • In Washington Irving's book The Life and Travels of Christopher Columbus, published in 1828, there are references about the dangers of la Boca del Dragón.
  • Hesiod's Theogony portrays the primitive horror of the dragon.
  • The testimonies offered by the relatives of the disappeared in Güiria and in other points of the frontiers of Venezuela have been fundamental for the construction of this text. Their voices continuing speaking up for answers and justice.


My gratitude to the Venezuelan poet Jacqueline Goldberg and the American carillonist Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, who have encouraged me to undertake this path. Thanks!

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