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6 Investigates Exclusive: Jailed “Citgo 6” face inhumane conditions, corrupt legal system

Posted: 9:44 PM, Feb 10, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-11 18:34:45-05

Corpus Christi Citgo employee Alirio Zambrano thought nothing of being summoned to Caracas, Venezuela for a meeting in late November 2017.

After all, Caracas is home to Citgo’s parent company, Petroleos De Venezuela, S.A. (“PDVSA”), Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and at the time, Zambrano was VP and Operations Manager at Citgo’s Corpus Christi refinery.

But, the meeting was a trap – Zambrano and five other Citgo executives from other Citgo properties in the U.S. were arrested and charged with corruption, embezzlement, and treason.

Almost 450 days later, the men – five who are U.S. citizens, including Zambrano, remain jailed somewhere in a Caracas suburb, suffering through inhumane conditions without the benefit of even a preliminary hearing.

“It didn’t make sense, and, honestly, it’s been a blur ever since and it’s been a blur for all the six families,” says Zambrano’s oldest daughter, Alexandra Forseth, herself a chemical engineer in Houston.

Jailed Citgo executive Alirio Zambrano with daughter, Vanessa, a Ray High School senior.  (COURTESY: Alexandra Zambrano Forseth)

 

Now, in an exclusive interview, Forseth, speaking on behalf of the father, her two sisters and their mother (who also is a Citgo employee) says it’s time for the men to come home.

She says visitors return to the U.S. reporting the men are malnourished, face long periods of almost total isolation from others and go days – if not weeks – without seeing the sun.

“It has been fourteen months … and it’s enough,” she says.  She says her father’s 6-foot frame is down to about 135 pounds but can only estimate it, as so few outsiders are allowed in to see the men.

According to reports, the other men jailed with Zambrano are:

  • His brother, Jose Luis Zambrano.
  • Jorge Toledo
  • Gustavo Cardenas
  • Tomeu Vadell
  • Jose Angel Pereira

To pass the time, they make trinkets and other mementos to place in the palms of those who get in to see them, hoping to get them into their families’ hands. Forseth carries a small bracelet made by her Dad from plastic refuse, bearing his nickname for her: “Zandy.”

She says the men reportedly do a lot of praying, using rosaries made from trash bags, and, they work diligently to stay as healthy – and clean – as possible.

Jailed Citgo executives do a lot of praying on homemade rosaries, like these. (COURTESY: Alexandra Zambrano Forseth)

 

Back in the states, their families have created a Twitter feed to provide regular updates and are beginning to speak out, as word of Venezuela’s political unrest, spreads.

They say the men are being used as scapegoats by a corrupt regime headed by President Nicolas Maduro.

“This ‘investigation’ was started in Venezuela on Monday, Nov. 20th, 2017 and closed the same day. Their arrest warrants were issued Nov. 21,” Forseth tells 6 Investigates.  “The men … have seen absolutely nothing that indicates any shred of evidence against them.”

6 Investigates has made repeated requests to Citgo for information or interviews to discuss what the company is doing to lobby for the men’s release and what they’re doing to assist the families. They’ve ignored each one.

Forseth tells us they’re struggling to keep up as legal bills from their Venezuelan lawyers, mount up. Meanwhile, Citgo suspended their pay, last May.

“(Just an) undated letter in the mail with no explanation – (it) just says ‘your pay will be suspended’.”

For the Zambrano’s, the loss of his income has been a devastating setback. Forseth says her mother, also a Citgo employee, has been forced to rent their Southside home and move into an apartment while their youngest daughter, Vanessa, finishes her senior year at Ray High School.

“They built their dream-house, that they saved up their whole lives for, “Forseth says. “My mom had to sell almost everything (in it.)”

The U.S. Department of State tells us that, while it has no greater responsibility than protecting U.S. citizens, abroad, it cannot comment on the status of private citizens. “But, we continue to work closely with international partners to ensure the safety and security of U.S. citizens in Venezuela.”

U.S. Representative Michael Cloud (CD-27) issued this statement:

“I am very concerned about the imprisonment of Mr. Zambrano and five other CITGO executives in 2017.  And recent upheaval in Venezuela has only added to the complexity of the situation.  My office is in communication with the State Department and working to ensure proper attention is being paid to secure his release and see them all returned safely to their family and our community.”

Forseth says the families are sticking together, and leaning on their communities for support and continue praying for the loved ones’ release.

“I know that my dad and all of these men – if we were in the same situation, they would never give up on us and we will never give up on them.”