GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Tuesday met with the families of the “CITGO six,” American oil executives held captive in Venezuela and called for their release.
CITGO is a U.S.-based oil company that is majority-owned by PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro imprisoned CITGO’s former vice president for refining Tomeu Vadell, former vice president for supply Jorge Toledo, former vice president for shared services Jose Luis Zambrano, former Corpus Christi refinery director Alirio Zambrano, and former head of public affairs Gustavo Cardenas in November 2017.
“For over a year, they’ve been imprisoned,” Sen. Cruz told reporters after the meeting. “[Their families] haven’t spoken to them in nearly a month, as communications have been cut off. They’ve seen their family members drop weight precipitously. They’re kept away from sunlight – often away from human contact, denied basic human rights.”
“The United States government shouldn’t stand for Americans being held hostage,” Cruz continued. “We will continue using every diplomatic lever, every economic lever – every lever we have to bring the ‘CITGO six’ home.”
“My team and I at the State Department, the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, headquartered at the FBI, are available to you at every hour,” Robert O’Brien, the State Department’s Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs told the families of the hostages. “Bringing our fellow citizens home is the single-most important mission we have, and it is also the key mission of this Secretary of State, of this President, and of this nation.”
Maduro is under increasing pressure to step down as Venezuelan president. Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido is making a bid to replace Maduro and has earned recognition from President Donald Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and other world leaders as the rightful leader of Venezuela.
The United States has used sanctions to apply increasing economic pressure to the Maduro regime. Sanctions on the Venezuelan oil industry, the country’s main source of income, have caused oil to pile up in the country with no immediate market to go to.
Blackouts, mobs and looters are plaguing the country as infrastructure continues to fail. Venezuelan security forces are retreating from certain areas that have become overrun with crime.
Maduro is attempting to shut down the rebellion by targeting Guaido. Maduro has banned Guaido from running for public office for 15 years over alleged flaws in his financial records. The Venezuela Supreme Court Justice Maikel Moreno, a Maduro ally, has proposed prosecuting Guaido for violating a ban to travel outside the country, Fox News reports.
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