Gustavo Cardenas and Jorge Toledo were placed under house arrest Thursday night, days after a humanitarian visit to Caracas by former New Mexico Prime Minister Bill Richardson and a team of non-governmental negotiators.
Richardson said in a statement that this was a “positive and important first step” and thanked Maduro for the gesture, while calling for the release of all six detained oil contractors. This is not the first time the men have been placed under house arrest, but negotiators have said they hope this time the release from prison will ultimately precede their release from Venezuela.
They were placed under house arrest following remarks last month by President Donald Trump that he would consider meeting with Maduro, during which time he refuted his earlier decision to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela̵
Days later, the president returned these comments, tweeting: “My administrator has always stood on the side of FREEDOM and LIBERTIES and against the oppressive regime of Maduro! I would only meet with Maduro to discuss one thing: a peaceful exit from power!
Sitgo 6, as it is known – Cardenas, Toledo, Tomeu Vadel, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira, have been detained in Venezuela without trial since November 2017, when they received a call from the head of the Venezuelan oil giant. PDVSA calls them to Caracas for a last minute budget meeting.
When they arrived, armed and masked security agents arrested them on embezzlement charges stemming from a never-ending offer to refinance about $ 4 billion in Citgo bonds, offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Maduro himself accused them of “treason”, although they were not charged with the crime.
Long before the global pandemic put pressure on financial systems around the world, Venezuela was facing severe food, drug and fuel shortages as it battled inflation, which most economists blamed on years of mismanagement and corruption. More than 3.5 million Venezuelans have fled their homes to escape the country’s economy.
The families of Citgo 6 – five of them US citizens and all with deep roots in Texas and Louisiana – complain that the men have been detained in inhumane conditions, share overcrowded basements in a military counterintelligence prison and suffer severe weight loss in a suffering country. from food shortages.
The case largely slipped out of sight as Venezuela went further into turmoil and relations between it and the United States were torn by the Trump administration’s strong support for opposition leader Guido in his battle to oust Maduro.
In January last year, the United States imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA, in which the Treasury Department said it was an effort to ensure an influx of oil revenues to Guido, not the Maduro government. A month later, Guaidó appointed a new management board for Citgo, the eighth largest refinery in the United States and which was a subsidiary of PDVSA until the takeover.
Richardson and his team have been working to secure the men’s release for several months at the request of the families.
In a separate case, two former Green Berets were among more than 100 people arrested earlier this year in Venezuela in connection with a plan to seize the presidential palace, take Maduro and return him to the United States. The state of their detention was not immediately clear.
The White House and the Department of Defense have denied US involvement in the planned attack.
This is a smashing story and will be updated.