Venezuelan police officer builds better life for family in Trinidad

Darilis Martinez and her son Davier. The food truck Davier's Grill is named after her son who was born six months ago. Photo by Kalifa Sarah Clyne
Darilis Martinez and her son Davier. The food truck Davier's Grill is named after her son who was born six months ago. Photo by Kalifa Sarah Clyne

When Venezuelan migrant Darilis Martinez, 27, left her country she was working as a police officer in Tucupita. She had also recently completed a university degree in systems engineering at la Universidad Nacional Experimental de las Fuerzas Armadas in Tucupita.

In 2019, she paid a boat captain US$300 to transport her and her then six-year-old daughter to Trinidad, a desperate attempt to search for a life that seemed better than the hunger, unemployment and illness that surrounded her in Tucupita.

The decision was not an easy one to make. She was a police officer. She knew she was breaking the law.

She also knew the monthly food quota she was allowed was not enough for her aged parents as well as her husband, daughter and herself. Her father had cardiac issues and could not work and though healthy, she couldn't work either. There were no jobs.

In her village, people talked about escaping to Trinidad. Some, who had already left, sent food and money back to relatives. In Martinez' mind, Venezuela presented an impossible situation and Trinidad showed possibility.

She discussed it with her husband and they decided that they would move to Trinidad in order to make a better life and better care for their elderly relatives.

The trip to Trinidad from Venezuela takes approximately three hours by boat but avoiding detection by authorities adds hours to the trip and Martinez left Venezuela at 2 pm and arrived in Trinidad at 4 am. She was nervous, after hearing stories about the rough waters and people becoming ill. For Martinez, the trip was calm as she clung to her daughter with one hand and a small bag, containing two pairs of shoes and a shirt for each of them, with the other.

She does not know where she landed in Trinidad, but the majority of Venezuelans who enter Trinidad and Tobago illegally, do so through Cedros and other parts of the southwestern peninsula, jumping from boats and running toward empty shorelines while captains make a hasty retreat.

Eduardo Rivas, who runs Davier's Grill with his friends Darilis Martinez and Xavier Garcia, prepares a hot dog for a customer. -

Her husband, Xavier Garcia, made the trip 20 days later.

When the Government announced that they would register Venezuelans and allow them to stay in the country for a period of time, Martinez and her family went on the first day at 3 am, they spent the night in Port of Spain, eating food given to them by local volunteers, and finished the process at 5 pm the next day.

A few days after entering Trinidad, Martinez took her daughter with her to a construction site in Cunupia, where a friend told her she could find work. While her daughter played on her mobile phone, Martinez moved cement blocks around a construction yard.

"I couldn't do it anymore after three days. At the end of the third day my boss said see you tomorrow and I said no. It was just too painful," Martinez said.

Her boss was kind and referred her to a friend who needed painters. There, she got paid $160 per day and her new job provided lunch.

After that job ended, she got a job cleaning a boat in Port of Spain before getting another job cleaning a bar in Arima. She would go to work at the bar at 8 pm and leave at 4 am, then she would wake up to go to work at 8 am, selling laundry detergent in a carpark near a supermarket.

Soon she started cleaning houses on weekends so they could have enough money to pay rent and still send food for their relatives in Venezuela.

Her husband got a job at a food truck, working with a friend he knew from Venezuela.

Martinez worked job after job until she, her husband and his friend Eduardo Rivas decided to open their own business. They decided on a food truck near where they lived in Arima.

They saved for months until they could pay someone to construct the food truck. When it was finished, they called it Davier's Grill, after her son who was born in Trinidad six months ago.

When they opened on November 30, it represented a new beginning for them.

Darilis Martinez stands in front of the food truck Davier's Grill in Arima. Photo by Kalifa Sarah Clyne

About a week later, two men, one with a gun, the other with a knife robbed them an undisclosed sum of cash.

While the ordeal was scary for them, Martinez said they are still committed to running the business.

"I have to help my parents in Venezuela. I work and I send money and food for them. I am their only child and they depend on me completely," Martinez said.

Once per week, a friend in Venezuela goes to her parents house so they can video chat. Martinez said while she is happy for the opportunities in Trinidad, she thinks about the day she can be with her parents again.

"I am happy in Trinidad but I miss my family."


"Venezuelan police officer builds better life for family in Trinidad"

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