MIAMI - Six American oil executives under house arrest in Venezuela were rounded up by police hours after President Donald Trump met Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s chief opponent at the White House, according to family members of the men.
Zambrano said early Thursday that the executives of Houston-based Citgo were
abruptly taken from their homes last night by the SEBIN intelligence police.
Zambrano, the brother of two of the six detained men, said their current
whereabouts are unknown.
demand to know they are safe but more importantly their freedom!” Zambrano said
on social media, adding that he was very worried about the detainees.
State Department and Maduro’s government have yet to comment.
move comes two months after the men were granted house arrest and just hours
after Trump welcomed opposition leader Juan Guaidó to the White House in a show
of support for his flagging, year-old campaign to oust Maduro.
Washington on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood alongside Guaidó and
called for the release of the American oil executives.
condemned Trump’s embrace of Guaidó while socialist party boss Diosdado
Cabello, who is widely seen as the second most powerful person in Venezuela’s
government, vowed to retaliate for the meeting.
time they do something, we’re going to turn harder to the left and see who
squeals,” Cabello said Wednesday night in his weekly TV program.
men were hauled away by masked security agents while at a meeting in Caracas
just before Thanksgiving in 2017. They had been lured to Venezuela in order to
attend a meeting at the headquarters of Citgo’s parent, state-run oil giant
group flew out on a corporate jet. They included Tomeu Vadell, vice president
of refining; Gustavo Cardenas, head of strategic shareholder relations as well
as government and public affairs; Jorge Toledo, vice president of supply and
marketing; Alirio Zambrano, vice president and general manager of Citgo’s
Corpus Christi refinery; Jose Luis Zambrano, vice president of shared services;
and Jose Angel Pereira, the president of Citgo.
recent weeks, speculation has swirled that Maduro’s government may release the
men in a bid to mend ties with the Trump administration, which has been
aggressively pushing for his removal.
are awaiting trial on corruption charges stemming from a never executed plan to
refinance some $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company
accuse the men of maneuvering to benefit from the proposed deal.
believe the men, five of whom are naturalized U.S. citizens and the other a
legal resident, are being held as political bargaining chips as relations
between the U.S. and Venezuela have deteriorated. They cite as evidence of
irregularities the decisions by Venezuelan Judge Rosvelin Gil to postpone 15
straight times a preliminary hearing.
Vice President Mike Pence in April called for the men’s release after meeting
with family members at the White House.
going to stand with you until they are free and until Venezuela is free,” he
said at the time.
unclear whether Guaidó discussed the men during his meeting Wednesday with
Trump. A senior U.S. official briefing reporters in advance of the visit didn’t
mention the detention.
members in the U.S. last spoke to the men Wednesday afternoon, according to a
person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity and
wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter. Shortly after, the men were all
rearrested during raids within a short span of one another, the person said.