HOUSTON CHRONICLE: Citgo Executives, Arrested by Maduro, Forgotten in Venezuela's Turmoil
The following excerpts are from an article by MARISA LUCK published in the Houston Chronicle on January 30, 2019
As Venezuela sinks deeper into political crisis, these six men, most U.S. citizens from Texas and Louisiana, have seemed largely forgotten as the Trump administration focuses on upending the Maduro regime.
The men have little access to access to water, adequate food supplies, medical care, sunlight and fresh air, their relatives said. Several have become dangerously thin and sick. Their families in Texas and Louisiana have almost no legal or political recourse as their fathers and husbands await a preliminary hearing that never seems to happen.
Despite months of working with attorneys in Venezuela, the State Department and the Texas and Louisiana congressional delegations, the families have seen no progress on their husbands and fathers’ cases.
After eight months, Dennysse Vadell of Lake Charles took the risk to fly to Venezuela to see her husband, Tomeu, in the detention center, a highly-secured facility typically reserved for military criminals. Dennysse said she couldn’t recognize her husband until he waved to her.
“He was very thin. He had no hair. He looked like an old man not like I remembered. He lost about 60 pounds,” she recalled. “I swallowed to try not to show my shock, but it was horrible.”
For the first 10 months, the men lived on just pasta, rice and sometimes a small arepa, a bread-like food made of cornmeal. Like Tomeu Vadell, most of the men became dangerously thin and suffered from malnutrition. In September 2018, the detention center allowed the family members to arrange to bring them additional food. The family members in the United States must coordinate with relatives or friends Venezuela to bring food, medical products, medications, toiletries and water to the detention center. Sometimes the detention center cancels visitations at the last minute, the family members said, so the men must ration water and supplies.
Although the detained men have lawyers, their cases haven’t budged in the courts since the day there were arrested, according to the family members who regularly communicate with the Venezuelan attorneys. Preliminary hearings in the case have been postponed or rescheduled seven times.
Back in the United States, their families have pleaded with the U.S. government to take action. Anez said a group representing what they call the “Citgo 6” has flown to Washington twice to meet with the State Department officials and members of Congress.
A U.S. Department spokesperson declined to comment specifically on the Citgo 6 because they are private U.S. citizens, but said, “We continue to work closely with international partners to ensure the safety and security of U.S. citizens in Venezuela.”
The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment. Citgo did not respond to request for comment.
Spokespeople for Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said their offices are working with the State Department and the families of the detained men. Cassidy said he is working with the FBI, Venezuelan officials, Citgo and others to try to bring them home.
“Maduro’s illegitimate regime has been holding U.S. citizens for over a year,” Cruz added in a statement. “The Citgo executives have been detained on baseless charges and subjected to harsh imprisonment. We have worked ceaselessly to secure their release, and it is well past time that happens. It is my hope that the new Venezuelan government will work with the U.S. to swiftly ensure their safe return.”
But despite the condemnation, the imprisoned men have seen little progress toward a day in court, let alone release.