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SIX FORMER EXECUTIVES HELD WITHOUT TRIAL FOR 19 MONTHS
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jul. 10, 2019) — On Monday, the U.S. State Department issued a bulletin calling for “the former Maduro regime” to “release the wrongfully detained ‘CITGO 6’ in Venezuela.” “These men are suffering serious health conditions and must be released immediately,” the press release said.
In a series of statements, the Trump administration has made it clear that it considers Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro illegitimate and Juan Guaido the nation’s rightful leader following the contested election of May 2018 and ensuing political turmoil. The two sides are reportedly engaged in discussions brokered by Norway after months of social chaos, economic strife and the arrests of members of the military following the election.
On January 28, the U.S. Treasury Department placed sanctions on Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the parent company of CITGO. “PdVSA is a Venezuelan state-owned oil company and a primary source of Venezuela’s income and foreign currency, to include U.S. dollars and Euros,” the press release stated.
As the sanctions were announced, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton accused the Maduro regime of “corruption” and stated that “today’s action ensures they can no longer loot the assets of the Venezuelan people.”
The imprisonment of the “CITGO 6” has been covered in The Houston Chronicle, KPLC, KRIS 6 News, and Reuters, among others. CITGO is headquartered in Houston and is a mainstay of the Gulf economy, Channel 6 in Corpus Christi reported in a broadcast with the theme, “Is CITGO itself in jeopardy?”
At the time of their arrest, Maduro was reportedly conducting a “corruption crackdown” at PDVSA leading to the arrest of “dozens” of the company’s executives, one of whom, Reuters reported, died in prison.
Maduro reportedly accused the “CITGO 6” of “treason against the revolution and against our people,” adding, “They were going to steal CITGO from us. I didn’t know that some of these executives had U.S. citizenship. Some of them had already been denounced by Wikileaks as CIA collaborators.”
Two days after their arrests, the U.S. State Department asked for access, Reuters reported.
Having been summoned to what they believed was a business meeting just before Thanksgiving 2017, the six CITGO executives, five of whom are U.S. citizens and the other a U.S. resident, were arrested in Caracas for alleged “corruption, theft and treason” and are said to be suffering in “torturous conditions.“
An editorial in The Houston Chronicle dated February 23, 2019 written by two grown children of those captured reads, in part:
Almost 500 days ago, our fathers were among the six Citgo Petroleum executives — five U.S. citizens and one U.S. permanent resident — captured at a business meeting in Caracas by the Venezuelan government. They have been held without trial and denied contact with the U.S. State Department, humanitarian organizations and religious groups. Food, water and vitamins sent by our families are rejected or confiscated by guards. Officials for Citgo, a Houston-based refinery that is the U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company, PDVSA, have not met with our families.
Our fathers, all of whom have deep roots along the Gulf Coast, desperately need the Houston community’s support to be reunited with their families back home…
To this day, they remain confined to a basement beneath a military intelligence compound in Caracas, where they have endured horrific treatment for more than 14 months.
We are deeply concerned for our fathers’ rapidly deteriorating health. These men, all at least 50 years old, are subjected to deplorable hygienic conditions while being refused adequate meals and essential medicines. Consequently, they have experienced life-threatening weight loss and chronic infections. Our fathers are not taken outside for months at a time, and their crowded quarters require them to take turns standing. Guards punish them unpredictably and intercept critical supply packages from our families. In sporadic 90-second phone calls, we hear the fear and despair in their voices.
On June 7, Reuters reported that the six men will “stand trial” on the charges.
Monday’s State Department press release additionally reported:
Maduro loyalists continue to prevent the families and attorneys of American prisoners from assisting with basic access to food and medicine, without regard for mental health and general well-being of those detained. These affronts to basic dignity will not be ignored.
The safety and welfare of Americans overseas is among the Department of State’s highest priorities. The Department of State continues to press Maduro’s representatives for their assurance of the safety and welfare of Americans wrongfully detained in Venezuela.
In May of last year, the Trump administration and then-U.S. Sen. Robert Corker (R-TN) secured the release of U.S. citizen and Utah resident Joshua Holt, who had traveled to Venezuela to marry, was later accused of “stockpiling weapons,” and held in reportedly harsh conditions for approximately two years.
Update, July 12, 2019, 11:18 a.m. EDT: The U.S. State Department just released the following statement on the CITGO 6:
As we stated on July 8, the United States condemns the wrongful detention and treatment of these U.S. persons at the hands of an illegitimate regime. We continue to demand the immediate release of the CITGO 6.