Six executives of the Houston-based CITGO Petroleum Corporation have spent more than two years in detention in Venezuela without any evidence of wrongdoing presented against them. Five of the men are U.S. citizens; the sixth is a U.S. legal permanent resident.
All six men have been held without due process, in violation of Venezuela’s own laws. No less than eighteen hearings have been scheduled and then cancelled. It looks as if the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro is trying to use these men as political pawns, even though they are not political figures associated with the regime or the Interim government.
The United States is gravely concerned over the wrongful detention of the six CITGO employees – Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, and Jose Angel Pereira. Originally detained in November 2017, they were put under house arrest last December.
However, in February 2020 the detained business leaders were taken from house arrest without explanation by the Maduro regime’s intelligence service, SEBIN, and sent to a SEBIN prison, where they remain. They have only been allowed to briefly speak to their families twice since returning to prison, where they spend their days in a cell without sunlight while struggling to prevent themselves from contracting COVID-19.
State Department Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams called for an end to “this cruel and indefensible imprisonment” and condemned their “unjust treatment.”
“They should be permitted to leave Venezuela and return to their families,” declared Special Representative Abrams.
Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, appointed by President Trump to work to secure the release of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage overseas, is working with Special Representative Abrams to bring the men home.
“My heart goes out to the families of these American men,” Special Envoy Carstens said. “Now, with the spread of COVID-19, it’s even more imperative that the Maduro regime release them.”
As infections in Venezuela grow, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said he was “extremely concerned about the risk for the [six CITGO employees] who are currently languishing in the notorious Helicoide prison in Caracas.”
In a written statement, Secretary Pompeo added that "[t]hese wrongfully detained men all … face a grave health risk if they become infected . . . . They have already spent more than two years in jail without an ounce of evidence being brought against them. It is time,” said Secretary Pompeo, “to release them on humanitarian grounds.”