Just before Thanksgiving 2017, a group of six US oil executives were summoned to Venezuela for an emergency work meeting, where they were arrested on corruption charges
Now, the families of the CITGO 6 – Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira – are preparing to spend another Thanksgiving without their loved ones.
And they’re desperately hoping that as the US prepares to change presidents, the CITGO 6 remain a priority for the incoming Biden administration.
“Regardless of political party, we expect continued commitment from all levels of the US government to exhaust every effort to bring American hostages home, like my father Tomeu,” said Cristina Vadell.
“We really do just hope that President Biden really does keep our family in his heart, that Vice President Harris keeps our family in their hearts,” said Gabriela Zambrano Hill, the daughter of Alirio Jose and niece of Jose Luis.
“Knowing that we’re adding yet another year notch on the wall is really difficult for my whole family,” Hill told CNN. Thanksgiving is another missed event for her father and uncle. They have yet to meet her first child.
So too is the case for Tomeu Vadell, whose daughter Veronica Vadell Weggeman had her first child this year. He is named in honor of the grandfather he has yet to meet. She told CNN that she couldn’t believe another year had passed, and that her family is “heartbroken that this issue hasn’t been resolved.”
Carlos Añez, Toledo’s stepson, told CNN that his stepfather has “been really homesick lately, constantly telling us how much he misses us.”
“I can’t count how many times I’ve dreamed of embracing him as we pick him up at the airport, and how many nightmares I’ve had of worse things happening to him and to us,” he said.
“Three years of his life have gone to waste unnecessarily, and the family has suffered emotionally this whole time,” Añez said.
Although there has been some movement on their case, efforts to secure the men’s release have been unsuccessful. The Trump administration severed ties with embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and the US does not have a diplomatic presence on the ground. Two of the men – Cárdenas and Toledo – were released on house arrest in July after a humanitarian visit to Caracas by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and a team of non-government negotiators.
The men began having weekly trial hearings in August after more than two years of detention. Hill called the hearings “farcical” and expressed concern about the men’s potential exposure to Covid-19. Añez said he hoped that the hearing would reach a “favorable and correct resolution” at its end.
In a statement Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for their “unconditional release” and return to the United States.
“These six Americans and their families have suffered long enough; it is time for Maduro to put politics aside and let these families be reunited,” he said. “No one should doubt the President’s commitment to bringing home all U.S. citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas.”
“Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams, and I will continue to pursue our mission to secure the release of the CITGO-6, and we will do our utmost to achieve that goal,” Pompeo said.
This story has been updated with comment from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.