Gustavo Cárdenas and Jorge Toledo were released under house arrest on Thursday evening, days after a humanitarian visit by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and a team of non-governmental negotiators in Karakas.
Richardson said in a statement that it was a “positive and important first step,” thanking Madur for his gesture and calling for the release of all six detained oil executives. This is not the first time the men have been imprisoned, but negotiators said they hoped this time the release from prison was ultimately the forerunner of the release from Venezuela.
Their move to house arrest follows remarks made last month by President Donald Trump that he would consider a meeting with Madur, during which he overturned his previous decision to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaid as Venezuela̵7;s legitimate leader.
A few days later, the President returned these remarks and doubled: “My admin has always been on the side of FREEDOM and KNOWLEDGE and against the repressive Maduro regime! I only met with Madur to discuss one thing: a peaceful departure from power! ”
“Citgo 6” as they are known – Cardenas, Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, 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. to Caracas to meet the budget at the last minute.
When they arrived, armed and masked security agents arrested them on embezzlement charges resulting from a never-executed proposal to refinance about $ 4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Maduro himself accused them of “betrayal”, although they were not charged with this crime.
Long before the global pandemic put pressure on financial systems around the world, Venezuela faced a severe shortage of food, medicine and fuel as it struggled with inflation, which most economists blame for years of mismanagement and corruption. More than 3.5 million Venezuelans have fled their homes to escape the country’s imploding economy.
The “Citgo 6” families – five of them Americans and all with deep roots in Texas and Louisiana – complain that men are being held in inhumane conditions, share overcrowded basement cells in military counterintelligence, and suffer severe weight loss in a food-scarce country. .
The case slipped considerably as Venezuela descended further into chaos and US-US relations were torn apart by Trump’s strong support for opposition leader Guaid in his fight to expel Maduro.
In January last year, the US imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA, according to which the Ministry of Finance stated that it was trying to ensure the flow of oil revenues to Guaido and not to the government of Madura. A month later, Guaidó appointed a new board to manage Citgo, the eighth largest refiner in the United States, which was a subsidiary of PDVSA until it was taken over.
Richardson and his team have been working for months to secure the release of men at the request of their families.
In a separate case, two former Green Berets were among more than 100 people imprisoned in Venezuela earlier this year in connection with a plan to confiscate the presidential palace, capture Madura and bring him back 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 breakthrough and will be updated.