Venezuelan judge details his life in T&T

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.

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