The families of six US oil executives detained in Venezuela are pleading for their release as concerns mount over their health amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
The “CITGO 6” – Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira – have been detained in Venezuela without trial since November 2017.
As the virus threatens Venezuela’s collapsing medical system and reports have emerged of cases within the prison facility where the men are held, family members say their loved ones are in “mortal danger.”
And despite calls from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to release the men, there are no indications that embattled President Nicolas Maduro – with whom the US has severed diplomatic ties – is any closer to ending their two-and-a-half-year plight.
On Friday, US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens revealed that two of the men “now have flu symptoms on top of other health issues.”
“It’s time for Mr. Maduro to let them go for humanitarian reasons, as he has with other at-risk prisoners. These men need to be back at home with their families in the United States - before their condition deteriorates further,” Carstens wrote on Twitter.
Carlos Añez told CNN that his stepfather, Jorge Toledo, was one of the men experiencing flu symptoms. He described him as “sick and in a lot of pain” and “still not allowed to get proper medical treatment.”
“They don’t have running water and just ration water brought to them every week and loaded into a water tank in their cell. Hygiene is a huge issue,” Añez said. “They’re infested with roaches and rats. My stepdad is covered from head to toe in scabies, he fell off his bunk almost two weeks ago and sustained an injury to his neck and back.”
“His morale is way down, and sounds as if he’s given up. Every time he says good bye on a phone call, it sounds like it’s for the last time. We’re very concerned,” Añez said.
Cristina Vadell told CNN that her father, Tomeu Vadell was recently sick, and although he said he was feeling better, the family remained concerned.
“My family has repeatedly expressed grave concerns for our loved one, Tomeu Vadell, throughout the over 2.5 years that he’s been unjustly held and will continue to plea for his humanitarian release, now more than ever with the global COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
Gabriela Zambrano Hill, the daughter of Alirio Jose Zambrano and niece of Jose Luis Zambrano, called upon Venezuela’s leadership to take measures to protect vulnerable inmates in the Helicoide – the prison facility in Caracas where the men are being held – and to release the Citgo 6.
She said the men’s immune systems are compromised due to pre-existing conditions and “they have endured exposure to tuberculosis, scabies and other diseases that thrive in environments with inadequate hygiene.”
In his more than two years detained, she said her father had “been forced to miss countless pivotal moments in our family: his youngest daughter’s high school graduation and acceptance into college, weddings, and innumerable holidays.”
“The most painful loss has been his absence for the birth of my daughter Iris, his first grandchild,” Zambrano Hill added.
However, it was the pandemic that “really brought to light even more urgency to the situation,” she told CNN.
“Our family is in mortal danger, even more so than they have been over the last two and a half years of hell,” she said. “And we’re asking every level of the US government to really consider all the options that are available to them to help save our family.”