Citgo 6 family members speak out during press conference hosted by Fort Bend County judge

Fort Bend County Judge KP George reads a statement during a press conference Feb. 11 with the families of the Citgo 6, businessmen who have been detained in Venezuela for over two years. (Beth Marshall/Community Impact Newspaper)
Fort Bend County Judge KP George reads a statement during a press conference Feb. 11 with the families of the Citgo 6, businessmen who have been detained in Venezuela for over two years. (Beth Marshall/Community Impact Newspaper)

Fort Bend County Judge KP George reads a statement during a press conference Feb. 11 with the families of the Citgo 6, businessmen who have been detained in Venezuela for over two years. (Beth Marshall/Community Impact Newspaper)

For over two years, six American Citgo businessmen, known as the Citgo 6, have been detained in Venezuela on unsubstantiated charges.

On Feb. 11, Fort Bend County Commissioners Court unanimously voted in favor of a resolution in support of freeing the Citgo 6, four of which are residents of Fort Bend County.

“This resolution calls on our government and Venezuelan government to do all they can to bring a peaceful ending to this situation,” Fort Bend County Judge KP George said during the Feb. 11 Commissioners Court meeting.

At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Pete Olson and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz have been working on getting these men released, George said.

During the meeting, Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers thanked Olson and Cruz for their leadership and thanked George for bringing the item forward to Commissioners Court.

“We too can play a role in pleading for the release of these innocent men,” Meyers said.

Hearing from the families

The six men—Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, Gustavo Cardenas and Jose Angel Periera—were taken prisoner by masked, armed guards who burst into the room during a business presentation, Gabriela Zambrano Hill said during a press conference Feb. 11.

“For over 800 days they've been completely unjustly detained. There's absolutely no evidence procured, nor will there be evidence procured for their claims,” said Zambrano Hill, who is the daughter of Alirio Zambrano and niece of Jose Luis Zambrano.

The Citgo 6 have been denied access to their legal representation, Zambrano Hill said. For the first month of the Citgo 6's detainment, the families had no idea where they were or how they were doing. After 30 days, they realized the men were starving to death as they were surviving on less than 600 calories a day, she said.

“Every single man has lost at least 50 pounds of weight due to malnutrition,” Zambrano Hill said. “Constant chronic health complaints, not to mention just the sheer psychological torture of not seeing the outside sun or the sky for years has been absolutely horrendous at various periods of time over the last few years.”

The men were moved from house arrest in various locations to an infamous Venezuelan prison called El Helicoide, Zambrano Hill said.

“El Helicoide is infamous for their torture and for their human rights violations,” she said. “We’re very concerned for their well-being. We consider this another abomination of their justice.”

Mervis Periera, the wife of Jose Angel Periera, echoed Zombrano Hill’s comments, saying she just wants to understand what is happening.

“This is a situation we don’t understand what happened,” Periera said. “They took a plane for business travel and were put under arrest, and we don’t know why. We have more questions than answers.”

Isabella Toledo, Jorge Toledo’s daughter, said the family members of the six men are counting on the U.S. government to bring them home.

“We have no hope anymore,” she said. “We’ve been living in this nightmare for over two years. Every day I wake up, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I’m going to get a phone call that my dad has died in a prison. I don’t know if I will ever see my dad again.”

George said he wants the families to know that the county stands with them and is working to do everything possible to get the message to local representatives.

“[We] encourage our state department and White House to do everything possible in their power to push a safe and fast release of these men so they can return to their families,” George said. “We all know that this is a federal issue. A county can only do so much, but we are working with our federal leaders to bring this issue to a peaceful conclusion.”
By Beth Marshall
Born and raised in Montgomery County, Beth Marshall graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in communication and a minor in business. Originally hired as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in 2016, she became editor of the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition in October 2017.


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