A Venezuelan judge and his wife, an economist with Venezuela’s Military University, who fled their homeland last year to escape political persecution, has found renewed hope with Venezuelan’s interim president Juan Guaido.
Manuel Romero and his wife Lorimar Silva came to Trinidad through Cedros in August last year. They applied for refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner as asylum seekers and was granted permission to stay in T&T.
During an exclusive interview with Guardian Media Limited, Romero said life in T&T has been difficult but he was thankful for the warmth and hospitality he got from dozens of Trinidadians who extended support to him even though he was a stranger to them.
Romero who now works as a security guard said he was hoping that one day he could return to Venezuela once there was political change. He noted that most of his friends had fled to other countries. The ones who remained in Venezuela were not able to find basic food or milk for their children.
“My friends have to break their beds and use it as firewood because there is no gas to cook. There is no milk for the children, no food, no medicine,” Romero said.
Within a six-month period since coming to Trinidad, Romero said he has become a jack of all trades.
Forced to do menial jobs to earn a living despite his educational background and his judicial experience, Romero said, “I have been a fisherman, a painter, a labourer. I pack boxes in a store. When people hear I am a judge and there I am, painting a gate they say “wow” but I tell them I have to work to feed my family.”
Romero said his son is not being accepted in a public school and he cannot afford to pay fees in a private school. Currently, he works as a security guard and the rent he pays for his apartment takes away most of his earnings.
A small pack of rice and red beans were seen on the counter where his wife Lorimar stood. Romero said he came to Trinidad because a family friend lived here. Despite serving as a judge for 15 years, Romero said he took a decision to escape Venezuela after the Nicolas Maduro government started forcing him to take certain sides when making judgements.
During one case, Romero said a high ranking politician called him and ordered him to make a judgment in favour of a business conglomerate.
“If I did not listen I would be dead,” Romero said. On another occasion, Romero said an official threatened to throw him in jail for 30 years for making unfavourable judgments and this was when he decided to flee with his family.
Romero said upon arrival in Cedros he moved from house-to-house and eventually settled with Brian Austin and his family in Fullarton. However, Austin’s home was destroyed by fire. Everything, including their Venezuelan passports and refugee certificates were lost in the fire.
Left with nothing except the clothes on their backs, Romero and his family received help from villagers. He did odd jobs in Cedros until he was able to save enough to leave. Now that he has found a job again, Romero said he was working from 10 am to 7 pm daily. Asked if he was ever exploited in T&T, Romero said “yes, yes.” However, he said the majority of citizens helped him and for that he was thankful.
He said every day he walks to his workplace but rather than fear the criminals he was more afraid of the police.
“When I see a police patrol car, I start to sweat,” Romero said, clasping his hands and raising it heavenward. He said with his asylum papers destroyed, all he had was photocopies.
He is hoping that the United Nations Commissioner will renew the application and his children could one day be accepted into a public school.
He said he was a good family man and a hard worker with high moral and ethical standards. Admitting that some foreigners may not be good people, Romero said he has worked hard to make sure he and his family follow T&T laws.
He said now that Guaido has brought hope to Venezuelans he is looking forward to the day he can return to Venezuela safely. In the meantime, Romero said he is gathering enough material so he can write a book about his experiences documenting his journey from a Judge to a labourer.
- by Radhica De Silva. Photo by Kristian De Silva.