Although it was our thirteenth event in thirteen days, the LEAP Ambassadors were ecstatic to have the opportunity to – once again – spend an evening with the World Affairs Council. This time, it was hosted at the Junior League of Houston’s headquarters. The venue itself was beautiful. Upon opening the heavy wooden front doors, you face a grand ballroom with crystal chandeliers and fabric-cushioned walls. This is the room where Ambassador Carlos Vecchio, the featured guest, would be speaking, moderated by our friend Ronan O’Malley. It’s quite rare that we attend an event centered around law, politics, and the field of criminal justice, but that is precisely what the evening held for us.
Ambassador Vecchio began by recounting his upbringing. He grew up in a small town in Monagas, Venezuela with his mother, a schoolteacher, and his father, a respected politician.
The town’s children were taught by one person, Carlos’s mother, at a school named after Abraham Lincoln. Vecchio sited his interest in the namesake of his school as being the first to fascinate him in regard to law and the United States.
After obtaining his law degree in Venezuela, he completed postgraduate studies in law at Harvard University and Georgetown, the former of which being under the Fulbright Program. Once back in Venezuela, Vecchio said, he landed a job as a tax manager for ExxonMobil. Not too long after, Chavéz expropriated ExxonMobil’s assets in Venezuela. Rather than losing his job, Vecchio was offered a job by his boss in Qatar which included a pay raise, a new car, and a furnished apartment. Rather than taking the promotion, he pursued politics with the vested interest of opposing the corrupt administration of Hugo Chavéz.
The time came, however, when Vecchio had to leave Venezuela and seek asylum somewhere else. Despite helping to establish the Popular Will party, his notoriety had gotten the attention of Maduro, and his family’s lives were now in danger. He told us that leaving his homeland was the toughest decision he ever had to make. Especially due to the fact that his wife was 8 months pregnant upon entering the United States.
Today, the Popular Will consists of the majority opposition against Maduro. Ambassador Vecchio claims that Venezuela will be the first country in the world to overthrow a regime with a united opposition. Although the road ahead is daunting, he is confident that Venezuela’s democracy will return with the help of international support.
After the talk, we lost all hope of getting a picture with Vecchio since he had to do a tv interview. Thinking of alternatives, we took to the stage and snapped a few photos.
As we were heading out the doors, Maryanne Maldonado, the CEO of World Affairs Council of Greater Houston, stopped us. We were confused at first, but then she told us to line up quickly for a photo with the ambassador. Taken aback by her kindness, we arranged ourselves in record time. Just then, Vecchio approached us, shook our hands, and posed for a photo with us. It was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.
By this time, our stomachs were angry with us. We took it as a sign that dinner was in order. We settled on “Sabor Venezolano,” a Venezuelan food truck located in the outskirts of Downtown Houston. Upon arriving, the man inside the truck, seeing as we were all dressed up in suits, directed us to their restaurant location so that we wouldn’t have to eat sitting on the curb of the gas station the truck was located near.
Pleased with his kindness, we drove around the block to their brick-and-mortar location off of Westheimer. Inside, there were frames hanging on all the walls with photos of famous baseball players encased in them. Positioned at the back near the register was a counter full of chopped vegetables and proteins somewhat resembling a buffet. Our food was prepared in full display behind the counter and was served hot and fresh. Around the table, there were empanadas, tacos, burritos, and arepas – a flat, unleavened pastry stuffed (in this case) with chicken and chorizo.
We were impressed not only by how quickly our food was prepared, but also by the fridge stocked full of sauces to complement our meals. There was a variety, but the salsa rosado was everyone’s favorite. For dessert, we ordered Nutella tequeños. Although we had doubts that the fried rolled pastries full of Nutella were authentically Venezuelan, the flavor soon dissipated any superficial suspicions. All in all, we had a great night full of enriching dialogue and delicious food.