CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The so-called CITGO 6, which includes the former general manager of the company's refinery in Corpus Christi, may have been dealt a setback Wednesday in their hopes of returning home to the U.S. when the Venezuelan government moved them off house arrest and most likely back to prison where they've already spent more than two years.
"From what we've gathered, they do seem to be in a prison in Caracas," said Gabriela Zambrano Hill, the daughter of former refinery general manager Alirio Zambrano and niece of former Vice-President of Shared Services. "It's called the Helicoide. It's pretty infamous."
Zambrano and five other CITGO executives were summoned to Venezuela for a meeting with CITGO's parent company in November 2017. Upon arrival, masked men arrested them and placed them in the basement of a prison where they endured terrible living conditions.
It wasn't until December 2019 that the government released the CITGO 6 from prison and put them on house arrest. The news that they're almost certainly now back in prison was a blow to Zambrano's family.
"We're obviously really scared, because it could be back to square one," Zambrano Hill said. "But it could just be another blip in the saga. We have no idea."
The Venezuelan government hasn't said why it moved the men. It happened hours after President Trump hosted Juan Guaidó at the White House. Guaidó leads the organization that's trying to topple the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
"We're just pawns," Zambrano Hill said. "My family is just pawns. It could easily be some sort of political connection, and it could be just an unhappy coincidence."
The CITGO 6 are accused of trying to steal money from the company, charges Zambrano Hill says are false. In a possible sign of a corrupt judicial system, the judge in the case has postponed a preliminary hearing for the men 15 consecutive times.
Zambrano Hill and her family members have made a number of efforts to bring their loved ones and the others home. They've met several times with lawmakers, led marches and rallies, and they have an online petition you can sign by clicking here. She vows to continue the fight even with the disappointment of her father's move back to prison.
"We are determined not to slip backwards," she said. "We're going to keep pushing forward until they come home."