Gustavo Cárdenas and Jorge Toledo were left under house arrest Thursday evening, days after a humanitarian visit to Caracas by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and a team of non-governmental negotiators.
Richardson said in a statement that it was “a positive and important first step” and thanked Maduro for the gesture, while also calling for the release of the six arrested oil executives. It is not the first time the men have been placed under house arrest, but negotiators said they hope this time, the release from prison is ultimately a precursor to their release from Venezuela.
Their transfer to house arrest following remarks last month by President Donald Trump that he would consider meeting with Maduro, during which time he overturned his previous decision to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela̵7;s legitimate leader .
A few days later, the President withdrew those comments, posting on Twitter, “My administrator has always stood by LIRIS and LIRIS and and against the oppressive Maduro regime! I would only meet with Maduro to discuss one thing: a peaceful departure from power! “
The 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 phone call from the head of the giant Venezuelan PDVSA oil calling them to Caracas for a last minute budget meeting.
When they arrived, armed and masked security agents arrested them on embezzlement charges stemming from an unenforced 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 have not been charged with that crime.
Long before the global pandemic put pressure on financial systems around the world, Venezuela was facing major shortages of food, medicine and fuel as it grabbed the inflation that most economists blame for years of mismanagement and corruption. More than 3.5 million Venezuelans have fled their homes to escape the country’s devastating economy.
The families of “Citgo 6” – five of them American citizens and all with deep roots in Texas and Louisiana – complain that the men are being held in inhumane conditions, scattering overcrowded basement cells in an anti-intelligence military prison and suffering casualties. heavy weight in a place plagued by food shortages.
The silence has largely fallen on the view as Venezuela has descended further into unrest and relations between him and the US have been shattered by the Trump administration’s strong support for opposition leader Guaidó in his battle to oust Maduro.
In January last year, the US imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA, in what the Treasury Department said was an attempt to ensure that oil revenues flow into Guaidó and not the Maduro government. A month later, Guaidó appointed a new board to manage Citgo, the eighth largest refinery in the US and which until its acquisition had been a subsidiary of PDVSA.
Richardson and his team worked to secure the release of the men for several months at the request of the families.
In one particular case, two former Green Bears were among over 100 people arrested earlier this year in Venezuela over a plan to seize the presidential palace, capture Maduro and bring him back to the United States. States. The status 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 breaking story and will be updated.