34-year-old Carlos Añez was upset when his stepfather, a senior Citgo employee, was called to a meeting in Venezuela on the weekend before Thanksgiving 2017. His stepfather, Jorge Toledo, vice president of supply and marketing at the time, would miss his granddaughter's fourth birthday and possibly Thanksgiving if the meeting was too late, as is usually the case.
Citgo, based in Houston, is the US subsidiary of state-owned Venezuelan oil giant Petroleos de Venezuela or PDVSA. For some executives, traveling to Caracas was not unusual.
"Strangely enough, when he arrived at the airport, all the Venezuelan American Vice Presidents were present. The others were excluded, "Añez said. "He called my mother and told her that was unusual."
Arrested at the PDVSA headquarters in Caracas, armed and masked security forces arrested the men ̵
The families of Texas-based and Louisiana-born executives were at a loss when Venezuelan Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab announced at a press conference that senior executives had been jailed for a contract to refinance Citgo's debt. 19659002] The families vigorously reject the allegations and insist that their relatives are innocent.
Since then, men have been held in custody Cellar Venezuela's military counterintelligence and relatives have described their conditions as human rights violations. At one point in time, 60 people shared a room for 22 people. The lights are on 24 hours a day and they are allowed to stay outside for 20 minutes every six to eight weeks.
Until the families were allowed to send food for nearly a year later, the men's diet consisted of rice and noodles, causing Toledo to lose 50 pounds. Now at 125 pounds he has chronic bronchitis, pre-diabetes and hypertension that have gone untreated. Phone calls are short and sporadic. Añez said his stepfather and the other inmates had not called home since March.
At home, the times are difficult. Citgo has cut executive salaries after six months. Añez & # 39; s mother, who takes care of her mother-in-law full-time, now sells her house because she has no income.
The business that never came to fruition.
Citgo is Venezuela's largest foreign asset. Saab, Venezuela's largest attorney general, accused Citgo's six executives of signing a contract to refinance corporate debt with conditions unfavorable to Venezuela and offered Citgo as collateral. The alleged agreement consisted of the Apollo Global Management investment fund and the Dubai-based Frontier, which worked on Apollo deals.
Documents viewed by NBC News in February 2017 show that refinancing negotiations have been approved by the Board of Directors of PDVSA.  But a deal was never signed. According to a source close to the negotiations, Apollo began reviewing the refinancing in July 2017. In early October, however, the company decided to take no further steps with Citgo.
Saab indicated that Swiss-based company Mangore Sarl acted as refinancing facilitator The deal was completed and there was a "suspected" link between the company and Citgo executives.
A source of Mangore Sarl said, "We've worked with Citgo's advisor on a proposal and no deal has been reached."
About seven weeks after Apollo declined a deal, the executives were arrested. President Nicolás Maduro called them "corrupt theft traitors" and said they should go to the worst prison.
Detainees include former Citgo President Jose Pereira and five of the company's former vice presidents: Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas and Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano.
Following the arrests, Maduro appointed Asdrubal Chavez, a former oil minister and cousin of President Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, Citgo's president.
The arrests were part of a crackdown at PDVSA, leading to the detention of dozens of senior executives, including a former PDVSA president, Nelson Martinez, who called the six executives to the Caracas meeting. He later died in custody.
After more than one and a half years in prison, the six Americans finally had a preliminary hearing. The judge ordered them to stand trial after they explained their innocence. No date has been set.
It was a blow to the families hoping for their release. The families feel forgotten as Venezuela continues to experience political and economic turmoil.
In February, the Venezuelan National Assembly under opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized by the US and some 50 other governments as failing as a legitimate Venezuelan leader to try to deprive Maduro of control, appointed a new board to head Citgo Guaidó will be crucial for a future economic recovery following the departure of Maduro. Maduro has accused the opposition of wanting to "steal" Citgo. Addressing the situation with the detainees is a delicate matter for Citgo's new board.
To complicate the situation, Citgo recently received a subpoena from the US Department of Justice as part of a PDVSA bribery investigation. 21 people were charged and 16 pleaded guilty. One of them, a Venezuelan-American businessman from Miami, admitted to bribing a high-profile Citgo manager. Citgo conducts an independent investigation with an outside lawyer.
The Despair of Families
Some families are concerned that Citgo and the State Department may not do enough to ensure the release of the executives.
Diplomatic relations between the US and Venezuela were temporarily closed under the reign of Trump and the US embassy in Caracas.
A US State Department spokesman said he was deeply concerned about the well-being and safety of these and other US prisoners in Venezuela and was watching the cases closely.
The spokesperson said the agency continues to work in third countries to ensure the well-being of these people while they remain in prison. The expulsion of the Swiss as a protective power has not yet been completed, but Switzerland as a neutral country could represent US interests in Venezuela and help ease tensions between the two countries.
For the family of Tomeu Vadell
Vadell, who is 6 "tall, has lost 60 pounds during his imprisonment. The family began shipping food about a year after being arrested, but he only got 12 pounds back. They are afraid he might be ill.
Vadell's wife Dennysse has twice traveled to Caracas to visit him. The first time she did not recognize her husband until he waved and said, "Hey, Dennysse, I'm here." All the men had their heads shaved and looked haggard.
Vadell's daughter Cristina, 27, said, "My dad went to work and never came home. Citgo's lack of support in bringing him home was very disappointing, especially after we saw him working so hard for over 35 years.
She said that more than 570 days have passed since her father's abduction. "More needs to be done."
For the Cardenas, imprisonment has brought particularly stressful times. Gustavo Cardenas, vice president of shareholder relations, has an 18-year-old child, Sergio, with special needs.
Sergio often had panic attacks, which led to convulsions. On the recommendation of Sergio's psychiatrist, he and his mother visited Maria Elena Gustavo a year ago in prison.
"He does not understand why his father is in jail. He knows he is innocent, "said Maria Elena.
Sergio has to undergo heart surgery and his doctors can not guarantee that he will make it alive, his greatest fear is not seeing his father before he dies and therefore he postpones the operation every month in the hope that his father will be released.
He has taken several videos calling on President Donald Trump to interfere and release his father.
] Maria Elena says that she is about to lose her house, she can only work part-time because she has no one to look after Sergio, and does not earn enough to cover the bills. "The family has resorted to church food donations, After Maria Elena was rejected for the federal food stamp program, "The days are getting harder," she said, crying over her husband's absence because I did not I want my son to suffer more.
FOLLOW NBC LATINO ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER AND INSTALLER.