He entered the world of diplomacy in 1994, first as a negotiator in trade relations. He is now El Salvador’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Juanjo Andrés Cuervo
His early years as a student were not easy, given that his country was engulfed in a civil war, but Werner Romero made it through and later went on to study law. Afterwards, a grant to study in the United States opened the door to the world of international politics.
Following the signing of peace agreements in 1992, the USA required professionals in legal and economic sectors, and Romero specialised in international political economics. He worked in the El Salvadorian embassy in Washington and participated in the creation of immigration reform that benefitted Salvadorians in the USA.
While living in the USA he became a member of a group of people who defend gay rights, and launched an initiative to support the LGBT movement in the UK in 2013, which pleases him immensely as a government official and also personally, as he himself is gay and is married to the journalist Roger Atwood.
He also helped to create the migratory reform plan for citizens of El Salvador, and today as Ambassador, one of his main objectives is to protect the rights of Salvadorian immigrants living in the UK.
The Ambassador Werner Romero spoke to The Prisma.
How important is the issue of Salvadorian immigrants?
Very important. We have movement all over the world, especially in the USA. More than 80% of our migrant population are there. The population in the UK is very small, approximately 500 people. Many of them are Salvadorians with European citizenship who need very few services. In those cases our role is different, and we become a cultural reference point. We follow all immigration policies very closely. Immigration is one of the most misunderstood, politicised, polarised and demonised issues. Very little is understood of its great benefit.
Why do they emigrate to the UK?
It is regular migration, although they generally come to study, to reunite with their family and they come in search of economic opportunities.
I call it “rebound migration”, because hardly anybody comes from El Salvador directly to the UK, they always pass through another country before arriving. Many of those that come have been in Spain or Italy beforehand.
Where do these immigrants work?
Everywhere, but mainly in sales, financial services and tourism. A lot of them are professionals who work part-time until they find a job in the field that they studied.
What position does the El Salvador Embassy take in relation to the anti-immigrant policy being strengthened by David Cameron?
It is a highly controversial policy, but it is the government’s choice. In that regard, we should ensure that any measures treat migrants humanely and that their rights are protected and guaranteed. Any policy that is adopted here will be a model for many countries. In a recent conference of an NGO that is pushing for migratory reform in the UK, they looked for examples in countries including Australia and Canada.
As ambassador, do you offer assistance to illegal immigrants detained in the UK?
There have been hardly any cases, in five years we have dealt with one or two cases and they were people who wanted to study but did not hold the visa.
Are Salvadorians living in the UK well integrated into the rest of the Latin American community?
Salvadorians are very well integrated. Latin Americans generally fit in very easily in Europe. Our community in the UK is partly made of people who are married to Europeans. A party took place recently with Salvadorians who live in the country, and more than half of their children had dual citizenship. In comparison with the USA, where we are omnipresent, migration to the UK is low.
Has the government of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén generated changes in the El Salvador’s policies?
They have not changed, there will be some modifications. The President has said that there will be continuity in this policy of change, and that he will expand social measures that the former president Funes began, as well as expanding economic measures. He was the education secretary, which is why I think he will put particular emphasis on education and on strengthening the education system. I hope that there will be more intense advocacy in the search for new markets and investors.
Last year you launched an initiative for the LGBT community, what progress has been made?
It makes us very happy as a government and for me as a gay person. In Washington we had a similar group, made up of diplomats and government officials, where we met and exchanged ideas. It worked very well for those of us who had commercial interests in Congress and US government.
We are responsible for fostering respect for our rights and we support each other professionally. We have gathered three times, I hope it continues and that when I leave somebody arranges another meeting. The LGBT movement in the UK has advanced a lot in the last two years.
Not necessarily. I think that the advantage Latin America has is that as it is made up of republics where there is a separation of church and state.
The issue of LGBT rights has been addressed like an issue of human and civil rights and a lot of progress has been made. By not mixing it up with religion the advance has been dramatic, and I think it will be even greater in the years to come.
Tell us about the Women’s City in El Salvador, an organisation to eliminate domestic violence.
This is a project that was created by Mauricio Funes’ previous government and his wife, the former first lady. We are working on promoting it.
It is made up of services for women who are victims of domestic violence, services that range from police and legal security, to the help women need to construct a new life with counselling and job training.
This project is also set-up to care for children while the mother works. We aim to have a Women’s City in each of the 14 provinces of El Salvador. Today we have five and their numbers are increasing.
El Salvador has asked the UN to intensify the search for peaceful solutions to the conflict between Israel and Palestine…
We have suffered through war and we are a clear example that when the will of both parties exists, something can be done.
When the UN reaches out to you, it is the ideal forum to settle these conflicts. Israel and Palestine are countries that are very close to El Salvador, we have very close diplomatic relations with them both.
You helped to create the immigration reform plan for citizens of El Salvador who want to enter the USA, is it possible to eliminate borders for all countries permanently?
We are very involved. We went to Congress and the government in order to try to get rulings included in immigration reform that were favourable to Salvadorians.
Any immigration reform has to consider a permanent agreement, and we are interested in any programme that in the future will permit the regular migration of people who want to enter the USA, a country that has an outdated system, in this respect.
You have said that “Central America is very invisible to the UK”. Has that changed?
In the last four years we have seen the region become more of a presence. The British government decided to reopen their embassy in El Salvador after leaving in 2003. The UK is more interested in exploring Latin American markets.
At our end, we are looking to the British market in order to do business and to diversify our flow of exports.
El Salvador has requested full membership of Petrocaribe, how would that benefit the country?
This government has seen that this agreement could be beneficial so that we can obtain oil at reasonable prices, and it is being analysed. The legislative assembly has to analyse this agreement, which must be rewarded, we hope that it happens.
In the last few years, Latin American countries have encouraged an ideal of mutual co-operation, do you believe that El Salvador’s relationship with these countries will keep improving in the future?
I think so. We are culturally similar nations and emerging economies that share challenges and opportunities. As a region we are more visible in the international arena.
(Translated by Alfie Lake)