Six executives detained in Venezuela for more than two years have been moved into house arrest – a small but insufficient step, their families and US officials said.
Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira – nicknamed the “Citgo 6” – were transferred from the notorious detention facility where they have been held without trial to house arrest earlier this week. Their advocates see it as a potentially positive move, but they say they will not rest until the men are returned home to the United States.
“While news of the #CITGO6 being moved to house arrest means better conditions, the group has waited for more than two years to receive due process on their case and had 18 hearings cancelled thus far,” Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Kozak wrote on Twitter Tuesday, “Their unjust detention should end and trial should proceed swiftly.”
Rep. Pete Olson, a Texas Republican, has spoken out consistently in support of the Citgo 6, writing on Twitter this week that “their situation has improved in recent days, but we will #NeverGiveUp until they are returned to their families in the USA!”
Sen. Bill Cassidy, the Republican Senator who represents Vadell’s home of Lake Charles, Louisiana, said Tuesday he was “glad for this first step,” but called for Vadell and his colleagues to be released.
Vadell’s family is also praying for his return from a situation they described to CNN in August as “worse than a nightmare.”
“We remain very concerned about Tomeu’s well-being, and hope that this is a step towards our loved one coming home very soon,” the family said in a statement to CNN.
Despite the public shows of support, efforts by the US government to free the men have been unsuccessful and complicated by the precarious political situation in Venezuela. The US recognizes Juan Guiado, not embattled President Nicolas Maduro, as the leader of Venezuela and has not had any representation in the country since US personnel were ordered to depart in March.
More than two years after they were arrested and detained on corruption charges, the men have yet to stand trial and were only granted a preliminary hearing in June. A hearing scheduled for early December was postponed. The Maduro government did not reply to requests for comment about the case. Following their November 2017 arrest, Maduro said that they would be tried as “traitors.”
“These are people born in Venezuela, they’re Venezuelan and they’re going to be judged for being corrupt, thieving traitors,” Maduro said in a televised address in November 2017. Five of the six men are US citizens; one is a US legal permanent resident.
In a statement, Citgo, which is the US subsidiary of the Venezuelan oil and natural gas company PDVSA, called this week’s development “welcome news and an important step in the journey towards reuniting these men with their families.”
Until their release this week, the men were held at the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) – a facility “responsible for arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture of political opponents and their relatives,” according to a recent United Nations report. That report found that DGCIM “routinely resorted” to torture practices “including electric shocks, suffocation with plastic bags, waterboarding, beatings, sexual violence, water and food deprivation, stress positions and exposure to extreme temperatures” in order to “extract information and confessions, intimidate, and punish the detainees.”
State Department special representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said in late November that the six men “face cumulative health problems given their lack of consistent access to food, sunlight, and exercise.” Vadell’s family said that he had lost so much weight that his wife of more than 30 years did not recognize him on the first of two visits she made to Caracas.