American citizen, Tomeu Vadell from Lake Charles, Louisiana has been unjustly detained in Venezuela since November 2017. He works for US-based oil company, Citgo and was detained with 5 of his colleagues. Collectively, they’re known as the Citgo 6. The US government has called on Venezuela to release them immediately.
Since earlier this year, the Citgo 6 have been on house arrest. Yesterday, all 6 of them were taken back to prison by Venezuelan authorities. Tomeu Vadell’s family believe this is in retaliation to the US government extraditing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s close confidant, Alex Saab to the US.
We’re joined by Veronica Vadell Weggeman, Tomeu Vadell’s daughter to discuss what happened, what US President Joe Biden and the US Congress should do as well as what the public can do to help. We previously spoke to Veronica at length about her father’s case and you can listen to this episode titled ‘Free Tomeu Vadell, American held in Venezuela’ published on 15 September 2021 to get further information on Tomeu’s case.
For more information on Tomeu Vadell, please check out the following:
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Breaking News Pod: American Tomeu Vadell and rest of CITGO 6 held in Venezuela taken from house arrest back to prison | Pod Hostage Diplomacy
Daren Nair, Veronica Vadell Weggeman
[(0:00)] Daren Nair: Welcome to this special breaking news episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. I'm Daren Nair. For those of you listening to us for the first time, we work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Together, with their families, we share their stories every week, and let you know how you can help bring them home.
Last month on 15th, September, I interviewed Veronica Vadell-Weggeman. Her father, Tomeu Vadell, is an American citizen from Lake Charles, Louisiana. He has been unjustly detained in Venezuela since November, 2017, that's almost 4 years. He works for US Oil Company CITGO, and was detained in Venezuela with 5 of his American colleagues. They are collectively known as the CITGO 6.
The US government has stated that Tomeu and the other members of the CITGO 6 are unlawfully detained. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on the Venezuelan authorities to release the CITGO 6 unconditionally, and return them to the United States. The Vadell family have said that Tomeu is a hostage being used as a pawn to extract concessions from the United States. Now, this would be hostage diplomacy.
For more background on Tomeu's case, please do listen to the Free Tomeu Vadell episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy that was published on 15th, September 2021. Yesterday, the CITGO 6, who were on a house arrest since April this year, were suddenly taken by armed men from the Venezuelan authorities to an unknown location. The families of the CITGO 6 are understandably very worried. I'm joined today again by Veronica Vadell-Weggeman, Tomeu Vadell's daughter. Veronica, welcome back, and we are sorry this couldn't be under better circumstances. As I said before, we will be right here by your side doing everything we can to help bring your father home, and we still mean it. Thank you for joining us.
Veronica Vadell-Weggeman: Thank you so much, Daren for this opportunity. It's good to be back even though under these circumstances.
Daren: Can you tell us what happened yesterday?
Veronica: [(2:00)] Yeah. So, around 5:00, 5:30 Venezuela time, my mom received a text message from my father saying, "They are here, and they're looking for us." Immediately, we started freaking out because we didn't understand what that meant. Earlier yesterday, Alex Saab, Colombian businessman that works with Maduro government in Venezuela was extradited to the US from Cape Verde. The Department of Justice brought him home over here.
It seems that this action is some sort of retaliation as to the fact that he has been extradited. So, my mom got the message yesterday, stating that, apparently, police, military personnel - we're not 100% sure who showed up in my dad's house arrest - has taken him, and one of the other men that was staying with him of the CITGO 6. Apparently, according to the other families, we started calling them, and they informed us that sure enough their family members were also picked up from their homes, and were taken to an unknown disclosed location.
Around, I want to say almost midnight here in Louisiana, I don't know 1:00 am or something like that in Venezuela. Mom, got a call from my dad, stating, sure enough, that he was back in the SEBIN which is the second location that he's been held at, and he's almost 4 years of his taking in Venezuela.
Daren: So, what you're saying is that this, your father and the other members of the CITGO 6 being taken to the SEBIN, is a retaliation by Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro for the United States extraditing close confidant Alex Saab to the U.S. even though Alex Saab and your father and the rest of the CITGO 6 have nothing to do with each other. This seems to be a retaliation for that extradition, is that right?
Veronica: A hundred percent. I mean, this is something that has been going on for months. We have noticed [(4:00)] the interest, and the money invested in the Venezuelan government and other international countries, communities et cetera, that have put in the propaganda of wanting Alex Saab released, and demonstrating the importance of this man.
We brought it up several times to Department of State, to our contacts in D.C. stating to please resolve our case before the Alex Saab extradition because we thought that this would be a potential retaliation. However, our pleas went unheard, or maybe Department of Justice just isn't informed, or just doesn't care about risking American lives at this point. We're very upset with what's happened.
Alex Saab is a totally separate case from ours. And this isn't the first time that the US government has done something that has backfired and caused a retaliation from the Maduro government. In February 2020, my father was taken away from house arrest for the first time due to an action that former President Trump had done. So this is not new to us. This is the second time house arrest happens that gets taken away from us. Third time for some of the other gentleman that had house arrest previously, as well. It's just really unfortunate that this is happening.
Daren: So this seems to be clear evidence that your father, as well as the other CITGO 6, are being used as pawns to extract concessions from United States, and this would be hostage diplomacy.
Veronica: Yes, 100%. I mean, this completely demonstrates that if people didn't believe it before, if the US government was ignorant before to this problem, they cannot ignore it anymore. This is 100% a hostage case. This man, our father and the 5 other men, are just pawns in this game. Unfortunately, seems to me that they're not pawns anymore of the Venezuelan government, but they're also pawns of the American government.
We are hostages of both countries because both countries are just playing with us, and not doing what needs to be done to get this case resolved. We will be [(6:00)] having a 4-year anniversary this November, and we have seen zero progress in this case. President Trump administration had lack of progress and current Biden's administration. I want to deny the fact, I want to completely deny the fact that President Biden is unaware of this case.
But at this point, I really don't think he even understands or knows what's going on because I don't believe that my President would do this to us. I don't believe he would abandon us. From what I understand, he's a very empathetic and a family man, and he would do everything in his power to bring this man home, these men, and I have not seen that happen. Instead they're just being taken back to house arrest. We don't want house arrest to happen again. The only answer that we'll take from now on is complete freedom for our father.
Daren: So what should President Biden do?
Veronica: Well, first of all, President Biden, I mean, if he was informed, we had several calls yesterday with State Department Officials and with other contacts in DC. And we requested for President Biden to put a halt to this extradition because there's always time to do the right thing and that clearly didn't happen.
If President Biden wants to make it right, he just needs to pick up the phone and negotiate face-to-face with Maduro, and stop this playing around, and toying around with these people, with our lives, and with our loved ones lives. These talks in Mexico sending envoys down there, and having a third country being involved, that is absolute nonsense. This is the United States of America. This is a first world country that can handle these kinds of problems.
We have brought people home from many other places. We have brought home the, like, I don't even know how many people from Afghanistan, during the Afghanistan crisis earlier this year. I don't understand why they can't bring back 6 Americans from Venezuela. It's completely unacceptable, at this point, that they have put my father's life at risk. President [(8:00)] Biden needs to pick up the phone, and resolve this ASAP for us.
Daren: What can members of the Senate and House of
Representatives do to help?
Veronica: Well, first of all, they should maybe answer our phone calls and answer our emails and our pleas. Yesterday, when this went down, we emailed several of our contacts in DC's and mainly all the important people that are working on this case. We only had one respond and give us the time of day, yesterday, to talk about our loved ones. So to me it's just completely unacceptable at this point. We need Congress and our Representatives to step up and to put pressure on the US government to help resolve this. My father is a Louisiana constituent.
We've been living in the US since 1999. We've been here for like 21 years. My father has worked for the oil industry of Louisiana, which is one of the top money-making businesses here in Louisiana. My father has made money for the Venezuelan government by working at CITGO. My father has made the US government money working at CITGO. He is a taxpaying citizen, and he still is a taxpaying citizen even though he is being held unjustly detained in another country. It's completely absurd.
We have been here for this long. I'm a taxpaying citizen as well, so is my husband, my sister, my mother, my brother, and we are not seeing those resources being put to work the way that they should. Congress needs to do something, State Department needs to do something and President Biden needs to do something. The Department of Justice obviously seems that they weren't informed, or they just like I said earlier, they must not care that they're putting American lives at risk.
Daren: So, for our listeners and members of the public, who generally want to see you reunited with your father and the other members of the CITGO 6 home. What can they do to help you?
Veronica: Well, definitely, they can help, first by following the case, right? They can follow me [(10:00)] on social media, @vvadell on Twitter, Veronica Vadell on Instagram, they can find me on Facebook, they can find me on Twitter. Twitter is probably the most accurate place where they can find the top and latest news on this case. They can help by retweeting and sharing our message to amplify our plea to the government.
Second of all, then they can, from wherever they are, whatever state or country, call their leaders, call the Representatives. I constantly ask our community here in Louisiana to call our Senators and the Representatives. We pick a date and time where we just kind of bombard them on telephone calls, and ask them what they're doing to bring our loved ones home. That's pretty much kind of what we can do here, at this point. They just follow me on social media, and kind of listen and await instructions to see what we will be doing next with our campaign.
We will be ramping it up within this next few weeks or so. With all these new changes that is happening with the case, we will be working really hard to put more pressure on the administration to finally do something, because it has been way too long. It's October, President Biden has been in this administration, he's been president for 10 months now. We met with Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, earlier this year, and it was in January, when he was first appointed.
It was a week after he was appointed Secretary of State, he gave us the time of day and spoke to a lot of American hostages and unjustly detained families from all over the world. He spoke to me face-to-face, and promise that this was going to be a priority. That there was going to be transparency, that there was going to be support, and I am not seeing that. There's no transparency. And I don't understand what is going on. We need answers, We need for SPEHA, which is the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, to get all the support that they need, to get the job done. I don't feel that they have all the support that they need [(12:00)] in order to bring my father home.
Daren: Is there anything else you like to mention?
Veronica: Well, obviously this is a very passionate and very intense subject for me. I'm very upset and emotional right now about what's happening. But I just want to remind the public that this can happen to anybody. If you're a dual National, apparently, it doesn't matter if you have an American passport or not, that is the golden ticket for other countries. Why does this matter? Most people brush this, and they say, "Well, whatever. These are oil executives, et cetera. They're just crooks anyways."
First of all, my father is innocent, but besides that these are human lives. They have suffered tons of human rights violations that not even any criminal should be able to deal with. Alex Saab has been extradited to the US, he will have a proper trial. Justice will be served for him. He will be most likely imprisoned in a decent place, where they can provide food, proper shelter, all the basic necessities.
My father's back in a hole, in a tiny little room, with 6 men. The bathroom is open, there's just a toilet in the room, so you can imagine no privacy. There's no running water, no windows, no ventilation. This place is under the standards of Nelson Mandela's rules for imprisonment for people. It is completely unacceptable. My father, he give my mom a list of items, and now he needs again in order to be able to survive in this place.
COVID is rampant and it's completely unacceptable that this is happening. My father is a 62-year old man, he is old. He has many underlying conditions, that is just a recipe for disaster if he were to contract COVID. So it is really important. We need people to understand that [(14:00)] something needs to be done. We need the American support, and we need this to get resolved. We cannot make the 4-year mark without my father being home. We're very, very concerned for his well-being, and for his safety.
Daren: Veronica, we really appreciate your time, and we'll be right here by your side until your father comes back home. Thank you for joining us. Now, just before we go, I like to point out to our listeners that you can listen to us wherever you get your podcast. However, unlike our usual weekly episodes, this breaking news episode won't available on our YouTube channel, as our objective is to get this information out there as soon as possible. And unfortunately, video editing as well as caption writing takes a lot of time. So we apologize to our listeners for any inconvenience caused. Thank you for listening to Pod Hostage Diplomacy, and take care.