US permanent resident, Jose Pereira from Texas was former acting President and CEO of CITGO Petroleum. In November 2017 shortly before Thanksgiving, Jose was arrested in Caracas while he was there for a business meeting with five of his other American colleagues. Collectively, they’re known as the CITGO 6. The US government has stated they are unlawfully detained and called for their immediate release.
On this episode, we have the honour of speaking to Jose’s son, John Pereira. John talks to us about what happened to his father, the conditions of his detention, the unfair trial and the significant developments that have taken place in the last year including Jose’s heart attack in prison, a visit to Venezuela by US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens as well as the release of Gustavo Cardenas in March 2022. Gustavo was one of the CITGO 6 and is now thankfully back home in the US with his family.
John also talks to us about how he and family have been coping with this trauma, President Biden’s new Executive Order on Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad as well as what CITGO Petroleum, the US government, journalists and the public can do to help bring Jose Pereira back home to Texas.
If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this interview on YouTube.
For more information on Jose Pereira, please check out the following:
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Free Jose Pereira, American held in Venezuela | Pod Hostage Diplomacy
Daren Nair, John Pereira
Daren Nair 00:05
Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Together with their families, we share their stories and let you know how you can help bring them home.
Elizabeth Whelan 00:18
Now when it comes to using the family to get... for Russia to get what they want, if that's the case, they've picked the wrong family, because I'm not going to carry water for the Russian authorities.
Daren Nair 00:28
These are some of the most courageous and resilient people among us.
Mariam Claren 00:32
I never thought that my mother, Nahid Taghavi, will ever have a link to negotiations in Vienna about the JCPOA. That's so crazy.
Daren Nair 00:43
People who have never given up hope.
Paula Reed 00:46
Trevor told his girlfriend to tell me to... to be strong. So, I'm trying to be strong for Trevor.
Joey Reed 00:50
You know, if Trevor can cope with what he's dealing with...
Paula Reed 00:53
Joey Reed 00:53
We can sure cope with the stress.
Daren Nair 00:55
People who will never stop working to reunite their families.
Joey Reed 01:00
We'd like to meet with the President. We believe that, you know, he has... he's surrounded by lots of experienced and educated advisors. But I don't believe that any of them have ever had a child taken hostage by a foreign country, especially not a superpower like Russia.
Daren Nair 01:15
And we will be right there by their side until their loved one comes back home.
Richard Ratcliffe 01:20
Because if enough people care, then the right people will care enough.
Daren Nair 01:24
I'm Daren Nair, and I've been campaigning with many of these families for years. When I first started campaigning with these families, I noticed they struggled to get the media attention they needed. So, I decided to create this podcast, which is a safe space for the families to speak as long as they need to about their loved ones, and what needs to be done to bring them home.
Mariam Claren 01:45
Nobody can prepare you for what our family's going through. Even if someone had told me one year before, in one years, this is going to happen. Prepare yourself. It's impossible.
Daren Nair 01:59
Thank you for listening. And welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy.
Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. Jose Pereira from Houston, Texas is an innocent American permanent resident, a husband, a father, and a grandfather, who has been wrongfully imprisoned in Venezuela since November, 2017. Jose works for US oil company, CITGO, where he was acting President and CEO.
In November, 2017, shortly before Thanksgiving, Jose was arrested in Caracas while he was there for a business meeting with five of his other colleagues. Collectively, they're known as the CITGO 6. The US government has stated that they are unlawfully detained. Former 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 US State Department released a statement on 21st November 2021, stating the following: "Today marks four years since US nationals, Jorge Toledo, Gustavo Cardenas, Jose Pereira, Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, and Alirio Zambrano, traveled to Venezuela for a CITGO Petroleum business meeting and were not allowed to come home. After being invited to Venezuela, masked security agents detained all six men and imprisoned them on specious charges without due process or access to a fair trial. As a fifth Thanksgiving holiday approaches, we continue to seek the unconditional return and the release of all US nationals, wrongfully detained overseas. Secretary Blinken will continue to relentlessly pursue the release of these individuals. To the Venezuelan authorities who have imprisoned them, we ask that they be allowed to return to the United States to reunite with their families." That was a statement from Ned Price, spokesperson for the US State Department.
These innocent Americans are being held by the Venezuelan authorities to extract concessions from the United States government. [(4:00)] This is state-sponsored hostage taking, also known as hostage diplomacy.
On 8th March 2022, one of the CITGO 6 members, Gustavo Cardenas, was released and is now back home in the United States with his family. Gustavo was released with another American citizen by the name of Jorge Fernandez.
Now, this is the 38th episode of our podcast and our seventh episode on the CITGO 6. We have interviewed the families of Tomeu Vadell, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Zambrano and Jose Louise Zambrano. If you have not listened to these episodes, please do check them out wherever you get your podcast, or on our website, podhostagediplomacy.com.
Today, we have the honour of speaking to Jose Pereira's son, John Pereira.
John, we're so sorry for what your family is going through, and we will do everything we can to help. Thank you for joining us today.
Thank you, Daren. Thank you for having me here on your podcast.
You're welcome. Thank you for joining us. For our listeners who aren't aware, John, can you please give them a brief summary of what happened to your father?
Sure. November 2017, my father received a call on, I guess, it was the 19th. He received a call from PDVSA, who is the parent company from CITGO. They have to go to a meeting back in Venezuela, and he was asked to take all six other VPs back to Venezuela. This was Saturday. They started taking the travel back to Venezuela. On Sunday night, they were already there. They were supposed to have a meeting on Monday, a brief meeting, to the PDVSA board.
As soon as that meeting got finished, they were asked to [(6:00)]stay for a second meeting on Tuesday morning. They were supposed to have that meeting and then probably go back to the US. On Tuesday morning, apparently, they had the meeting. They started doing their supposed meeting and during that, they just got imprisoned by the DGCIM. Masked man, rifles, and all black dress. They didn't know what was going on, and certainly, they didn't have any warrant to conduct their detention.
They were taken from that meeting. The funny thing about that is that, while this was happening, the Venezuelan General Attorney was doing a press conference, saying that they were going taking with them to prison some CITGO executives. This was on live. The General Attorney was doing this press release and they were being taken at the same time.
At the time, I was called by some friends. I work at CITGO, on raw refineries. I was at work and I got a call from a friend. He said, "Your father is being detained right now." I was shocked because I just had a quick call with him a few hours prior to his arrest, and he just said, "Hey, I'm going to a quick meeting. I'm hoping to be back to the [(8:00)]United States at noon."
I thought that it was a joke from him, but I just called my brother and he was in Venezuela at the time, and when we got there, he got a call. He said, "Are you seeing the TV? I'm seeing the Venezuela General Attorney's press conference." They're taking my father under detention, and I guess other five or six executives." At the time we didn't know who was being detained. The first 24 hours, it went dark. We didn't know what was going on. We only have the news from Venezuela, which we knew we couldn't rely on what was said on the Venezuelan news.
My father was able to have a call late night to my brother. He just said that, "Hey, I'm being detained. They're taking fingerprints, photos from me. I don't know where I'm going. Try to contact CITGO's lawyer." That's what he said. That's what we did, actually. Since I worked at CITGO at that time, I knew the lawyers. I contacted them. They were shocked as me, basically. They just said, "We are still working things out. We believe that this is just a misunderstanding on what's going on there, and we believe that this is gonna be fixed quick." That's what the CITGO lawyers said.
The very next day I was on Aruba. I travelled to the US to[(10:00)] see my mom. I have to help her because my mom was sitting there, alone with my youngest sister. I went there and I went to CITGO's office also, tried to have a meeting with the lawyers, and they were still working things out. They said, "We're trying to send all the information that they're saying that they need to Venezuela, but what they were saying is not true," so they didn't do anything wrong.
This time, we're talking about Thursday, I guess, the 22nd of November. Already on Friday, when I tried to contact the CITGO lawyers again, he just said, "Hey, we just got a new CEO already," which was Asdrubal Chavez, a famous cousin of late Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez. He said, "I'm going to stop responding calls from you because I think I'll get in trouble. Just wait for us to contact you." After that, my father and, I know that there were other five men, they were ceased from payment and almost everything. They just got fired, at least my father, he just got fired. That is, at least, what they said because you can't fire anyone that is being detained. They just replaced him with a new guy and [(12:00)] started pretending that the CITGO 6, as we started calling them, didn't exist at all.
For almost a year and a half, we didn't have any news from them, from CITGO, and we were just banished from the CITGO atmosphere. After that, we just tried to get some lawyers, just our family, getting some lawyers to know what was going on. We contacted new ones, and at the end, we decided to stay with the one that we're still working on. He explained things to us and then he just said, "Hey, they're being taken to the DGCIM. They're being taken to the Boleita Norte, which is a military facility. They're going to be seized of all phone calls, basically or whatever for at least 45 days. That's what happened, basically. We didn't know anything about our father during the whole December.
The first one that got the chance to see him was the lawyer back already on January, 2018. As soon as he was able to have a quick conversation with him and just basically present to my father, because he didn't know who he was, he just said, "Hey, I'm your lawyer. I'm being hired by your family. I have a voice note from your son and wife so you can check that this is a real deal. I'm talking to them," and that's when everything started, basically [(14:00)]. We weren't aware what was going on. Nothing can prepare you to what we're living.
I'm so sorry to hear that, John. What were the conditions of your father's detention? Would you be able to describe the environment and the cell he is being held in?
Sure. Actually, these are pretty famous facilities down there in Venezuela. There have been a lot of people describing how they have been there, just to name a few ones. This is a basement, basically. There are two storeys down from there. On that basement, of course, they don't have running air, they don't have windows, they don't have breathing space, and it's crowded. At one point, they had at least 20, 25 persons just sitting in one cell. The count was at least 100 persons making a living down there, just imprisoned, people being detained there. This is a pretty scary place. It has been said that they have torture facilities where they have torture cells and almost all the guards in the military facility, they're military. They're not just military, they are people that are mean. They conduct every... just name it, every type of torture, whatever it is, physical or psychological, they just run it[(16:00)].
I talked with my father about this when he was on house arrest for the first time, and it was hard for him. You can tell that when he was there, it was hard for him just to say what happened. The few things that we got is that they had the lights on 24 hours, so they didn't know if it was day or night. This happened for a few months. They went through out to another jail and they turned off the lights for a few weeks. He still didn't know if it was day or night. He was told several times, "We're going against your family. If we see some of your family coming here to Venezuela, we're going to detain them. We know that your middle son is living here, so better watch out."
Yes, my brother, he did feel that. He felt chased a few times, and eventually, he had to flee from Venezuela and go to the United States because he didn't feel safe.
Basically, with them, psychological torture was the standard. They did it almost every day. Yes, it's a pretty scary place and we know that he didn't spend a good time there.
Again, I'm sorry, John. I know your father was also given an unfair trial [(18:00)] because Venezuela's judicial system is notorious for unfair trials. Can you please tell us more about this?
Sure. To get to trial, we have to spend at least 17 preliminary hearings, being back and forth. Every time they just went down to a preliminary hearing, they just stopped. They just cancelled for whatever reason, you name it. They didn't have gas to run the van to get them there, they were waiting for the judge, they were waiting for the attorney, they were waiting for people to come over, the guards didn't want to drive them there. This happened 17 times until one day, they finally got that preliminary hearing. We were talking about 2017. The trial began on 2020, during the pandemic. It was odd times back then, and the trial, they used the excuse of the pandemic to do a closed door trial, so no one was able to go there. We tried. We tried with NGOs, we tried with the State Department to see if they can send someone there or at least use some consular office to get there, and no one was able. Just to put you out in context, the lawyer wasn't able to even get his laptop, flash drive, phone. He had to conduct a trial while using some cardboard [(20:00)]sheets, basically. He had to print everything. They checked everything that he printed prior to getting on the court. If they thought that they don't like what he printed on that day, they just didn't allow him to bring it. If he wanted to talk to my father, he wasn't able to do it because all the time, he was guarded by the court security, and the DGCIM. It was hard for him just to conduct a fair trial for him, but even though he tried, he did his best. I know that all the information that he was able to gather was just enough for a decent court to say that, "Okay. This guy deserves to live. They are not guilty of any of these charges," but we didn't have that hope because we know that the judicial system in Venezuela is rigged.
We have to try everything we have on our hands, and that's the path that we have to work. Even if we didn't believe, or even if we didn't have high hopes on it, we have to do it. We have to present our case and our lawyers to try to talk. Even if everything was unfair, as I just said.
There have been some significant developments in the last year. First of all, your father was initially on house arrest, just like the other members of the CITGO 6, and then he was taken back to prison. I know this happened, perhaps, correct me if I'm wrong, some time in October, because [(22:00)]I spoke to Veronica Vadell Weggemann, Tomeu Vadell's daughter, the day after it happened. She was obviously very upset about it, and we had a Breaking News Pod. It was our first Breaking News Pod. She spoke about them being taken back to prison. What was that like for your father?
Well, the second time when Alex Saab was extradited to the United States, we got the news from Twitter, I guess. Twitter is a faster source of news that we got. We started seeing primary reports saying that Alex Saab was getting extradited to the United States. I talked to my father immediately. He was able to talk, at least at that time, and he just said, "I'm scared and I'm pretty positive that I'm going be taken back to jail." That's what he said. We're talking about, this was 11 a.m., Venezuela time. He just said, "I'm going to make a video for you just in case, but I believe that this is going to happen. They're going to knock on my door anytime soon and take me back, so I'm going to make a video saying that everything that happened from now on, to me and my fellow partners, it's on them. It's on the Venezuelan regime." He made the video. He sent that to me. I'm going to say, half an hour after he sent the video, he just sent a text, saying, "I'm being taken back to Helicoide."
I went on, [(24:00)] I published the video on Twitter, and we started making noise. We were prepared for that, but we weren't happy, of course, because on previous conversations that we had with the State Department regarding that situation with Alex Saab, we just said to them, "You need to be aware that anything you do on that particular matter is going to affect them." Eventually, that was what happened. It wasn't a happy day for everyone. We were mad. Our family, we were mad. I know that my father, when I had that conversation with him, he was mad because he said, "This can't be happening again. I can't be on that place again."
I'm so sorry to hear that. For our listeners who don't know who Alex Saab is, can you please explain it to them?
What we know from news and reports, Alex Saab is a Colombian business man that worked for the Venezuelan regime for quite a few times. He was conducting whatever required for the Venezuelan regime outside of Venezuela. He was helping them to get food, he was helping them to sell oil, he was helping them to circumvent all the Venezuelan sanctions. He was sought by the US enforcement squad and he was detained in Cape Town on June 2020. [(26:00)] Since that day began, they started trying to extradite him to the US, and this finally happened on September or October. I don't recall the exact date.
As soon as that happened, the Venezuelan authorities and the regime in general, they got really mad because what has been told is that Alex Saab knows the way the regime operates, and he was a key member of how they hide the money and everything outside of Venezuela. Of course, they got mad and they just took all the CITGO 6 back to jail.
Now, once your father was taken back to prison, he sadly had a heart attack. Fortunately, he survived and he's doing all right, but could you talk about that experience? I know it is obviously traumatic for him and yourselves, and the other members of the CITGO 6 who were there with him. Would you be able to just tell us more about this?
Yeah. Just to try to get you there, my father, previous to him being detained on 2017, he suffered from high blood pressure. He was a bariatric patient. He had bariatric surgery. Of course, he has to take a bunch of medicines prior to him being detained. On the first, I'm going to say, year and a half, when he was on the DGCIM, taking medicines to him was quite difficult. They didn't allow him to get [(28:00)] medicine sometimes, and if they allow the medicines, they usually don't take it to him. He was, I want to say, at least for a year and a half, he wasn't taking the medicines on time.
Last year, back in October, I guess it was Alexandra that received a call from her dad from El SEBIN. Just a regular call, they allowed him to do. He was able to say that, "Yesterday, we have an episode with Jose, he fainted on the ground. He was looking pretty bad and they had to take him on an ambulance. We don't know where he is or whatever, if he's alive." She immediately called my mom and gave those words. My mom was devastated. I called my lawyer and then just gave the news to him. He just said, "Let me work on it. I'm gonna try to find what's going on." He went to the El Helicoide prison, tried to get some news, and they just said, "Nothing has happened. He's just here. You should be calm and try to calm your clients. We have him here and he just had a heat episode, something like that." That's what they just said.
[(30:00)] Later on that day, the Vadells received a call from their dad and he confirmed that he wasn't there. "They just took him two days ago and he didn't return." They called once again and they just said, "Whatever they just said to your lawyer, they're lying. Jose is not here." They don't know, even. They tried to ask the guards what's going on and they just said, "Ah, he's alive." That's the only words that they got from them.
Our lawyer, again, he started seeking on all the hospitals on Caracas. He finally found him on a private clinic. They were taking care of him there. Of course, he wasn't allowed to any access to that. We called the clinic from here in Colombia and I talked to a nurse and she just told me, "Okay. I'm going give you the number of the room. Your father is in a stable state. You can have two minutes. I can get in trouble for this, but I'm hearing you're troubled, so I'm going to do that for you." I called him. I was able to talk to him four days after he had the episode. Of course, he didn't have a clue on what happened to him. He just said, "Hey, I was on the bed. I tried to stand on my feet, and then I wake up three days here on this clinic." I asked him what happened and, "Did the doctors talk to you?" He said, [(32:00)] "They're not going to talk to me. They prohibited them to give any information to me and they're just sharing the bare minimum to me."
We immediately started making noise on Twitter, which is a tool that we are using a lot these days. The news went viral in Venezuela, and also in the United States. I provided all the information to the State Department, and they immediately called to Venezuela. They just said, "He is getting better and we're going to return him to his cell immediately."
My father was on a clinic for about five days out of recovery of a heart attack, which is nonsense. It is completely nonsense. The first thing they did as soon as he got on El Helicoide was to make him call us and say, "Hey, I'm back on El Helicoide. I'm better, and please make a Twitter statement saying that I'm better and I'm back." I just said to him, "No. I'm going to say that you're back in there and I'm not going to say that you're better, because I'm not going to lie to everyone because no one can recover from a heart attack just for five days from being in a hospital." I went on and just said, " My father was five days after a heart attack and they're just getting him back to jail." That's pretty much what happened[(34:00)] on that time.
Again, it's not much I can say apart from, "I'm so sorry your father's going through this and that your family's going through this." I'm grateful that he survived.
Now, this heart attack prompted the US government to send Ambassador Roger Carstens, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, to visit your father and the other Americans held in Venezuela, to do a health check. Right? What were your thoughts about this? Can you talk a bit more about it?
Yeah. Of course, every time they have these troubles back in Venezuela, we find out about those on when they're returning or when they have been already there two or three days. We believe that this episode that happened with my father triggered that first encounter that they have with the Venezuelan regime. Of course, that needed to happen. Being honest, we had meetings with them previous to that happened and we just said to them, "How are you pretending to bring them back if you are not even having a conversation with the other side? It's not going to happen or anything so you need to sit down. Whether it is a call, whether it's a meeting, you need to sit down with them and have a conversation, hear what they have to ask for. Why are they keeping them against their will?" Finally, this happened. Of course, we were happy, anxious about that trip because we [(36:00)]expected to have anyone back, but it wasn't possible. At least that set the grounds for all the trips that they have been doing to Venezuela.
Thankfully, in March this year, your dad's colleague, Gustavo Cardenas, was released. I'm so happy for Gustavo and his family. What did your dad think about his release?
We were happy because at the end, they were finally bringing someone back. Gustavo’s family, and I know Maria Elena and Sergio, too. They deserve to have Gustavo back. When we first got the news from Venezuela that Gustavo and another American were being released, we were just really happy. We are just waiting for that news to be confirmed because, of course, we got tons of news and gossip and fake news, but as soon as we received that call from the State Department just confirming that, we were happy. Gustavo needed that, and Maria Elena and Sergio, they need back Gustavo, to have him there, back on the family.
My father, too, when I had the chance to talk to him, he just said that they just floated off out of joy, and when they got the news that he was going back, they have an episode of where Gustavo was putting on his things back on the backpack, and they just said that, "Come on, guy just flew out of here. Leave everything behind. You're not taking [(38:00)] anything good from here." They just said that they have to push him out of the jail and said to him, "Don't feel guilty. You're just the first one, but we're coming next, so don't feel guilty about that." You can tell that they were happy about him.
Our family, we truly believe that that was the first step that needed to happen and we know that there was a possibility just to have one person, then another. There is still a possibility right now. We know there's a chance to continue to have it.
Now, unfortunately, there are reports in the media that more Americans have been detained by the Venezuelans. I think three more American citizens have been detained by the Venezuelans. What are your thoughts on this?
Well, this is just politics that Venezuela is taking on their wings. They think that the more Americans they have on their soil, the more leverage they're going to have against the US.
The count right now, again, is going 11 or 12 Americans sitting down in Venezuela. They can use whatever reason to detain you. My guess is that they need to sit down and try to negotiate with Venezuela and stop this to happen, but the only way, I think, that this is going to stop is when the US truly holds accountable the Venezuelan regime in a hard way[(40:00)]. First, they have to bring everyone back from Venezuela. They have to use whatever tool to bring them back, but as soon as they finish with that, they need to hold accountable Venezuela for the crimes they are doing against Americans.
When was the last time you spoke to your dad and how is he doing now?
I would say that last week, I guess last Friday or Thursday, they took him outside to have a call and he was able to call me and my mother. We chatted for about 20 to 30 minutes with him. We can say this happens every week. Sometimes, they allow him to call two or three times a week. Sometimes, they just go dark for a week. He was getting better, because he recently had excruciating back pain that he has been suffering for the last couple of years. Every time we happen to talk to him, we just ask him, "How are you going with your back pain?", how is everything going on on that matter. Every time we chat or call with him, we just try to talk about little things. "How is your day? How are your partners down there?" He asked about my[(42:00)] sons. He loves them. He asked my mom how work was that day. We just try to be there, with the fact that he is in jail. We try to use that time, and, let's say, try to call it quality time with him. Also, because we know that everything that had been said on that call and everything that we're talking about is going to be recorded, we can't share much on what's going on outside. Last week was the last time I had a call with him. Physically, I went on a trip to Venezuela back in 2018, when he was on the DGCIM facility, and I was able to have a visit with him. This was, again, four years ago so. It has been quite some time without having a physical meeting with him.
How are you and your family doing? I know this is traumatic for you, as well. Your life is basically on hold. I know some families go to bed, feeling that they failed their loved one. They question whether or not they did enough that day to bring them home. They feel guilty for living their lives when their loved one is basically held hostage. What has it been like for you?
Well, you just described the feeling for the first three years. Every time that I was doing something when I go to bed, I thought about how he's doing. When I am having a meal, I thought, "Is he receiving a meal in that place?" I was looking at the sky and I was thinking, [(44:00)]"Is he looking at the sky?" The answer was no, of course not. The first feeling that you receive when you receive this news is you're just shocked. You don't know what's going on. It feels so unreal, what's going on to you. You just believe that everything that is going on is a picture, a movie that you are living in.
Of course, back then, they were the first six Americans being in jail in Venezuela for the last two years. We didn't know how to operate. In my family, my mom was shocked, my father meant everything to her. As I said earlier, I have travelled to the United States back then, and I stayed with her for a week. I remember the first thing I have to do is get with my mom and I help her, hold her from the ground when she saw me. She just fainted. On that first week, I had to sit down with her and try to fix all the things legally and financially for her because she wasn't able to even stand up from the bed. On top of that, that first week was the Thanksgiving Day week, so[(46:00)] it was even worse for her. My dad loved to celebrate Thanksgiving, and even if he wasn't there in the United States, he required us to have a dinner or whatever we were going or living, we have to have a phone call with him.
It has been hard for everyone. For me, for my brother, as I said, he had to flee from Venezuela. He was chased by DGCIM, the Venezuela law enforcement. I have a youngest sister, she started to have the feeling of anxiety and depression out of that. At one point she was really sick about it.
Myself, it is hard to separate your regular day-to-day basis life from the fact that you're fighting against a regime, trying to bring your loved one back. This situation gets in your personal life. I have fought with my wife about it because sometimes, she felt that I was just too deep on what was going on and I wasn't accepting the fact that some things just go out of your hand. I'm going to say that that's the hardest one for me, just to accept the fact that sometimes you cannot do things that you cannot do. The first two years, I wasn't [(48:00)]vocal. I wasn't going public too much because, I don't know... I'm going to say that sometimes, I'm just shy. I was working with a lawyer every day in the lawyer, State Department. Whatever meeting they have set up, I was there, but I did not go out in public Tweeting or everything.
I internalized the fact that sometimes, things go out of your hand. I just said, "Okay. There has to be a way that I can help him without being involved in almost everything." I got into Twitter. I opened the @PCitgo6 account, and right now, every time I have the time, I tweet about whatever news is going on. That's our main source for giving information and receiving information out to the public.
It has been a good situation for us, for the family, but once again, this is a situation that affects you financially first. That's the biggest one that they are going to receive, even up to this day. The financial burden that we received from this situation is huge, but I'm going to say that the main one and the most important one is your mental health. It gets you on whatever. All the family members have felt burned out at some point[(50:00)]. We have each other. That's our main source of cheer-up that we have right now. When someone is feeling burned out, we just have a family meeting or call and just say, "Okay. Just try to settle back for a moment. I got you." I'm going to say that the pretty side of everything that's going on, trying to see a good sight of it, is that as a family, we got stronger when everything happened.
I understand that your family was also experiencing financial difficulties because CITGO stopped paying your father's salary, even though he was arrested while he went to Venezuela on CITGO business. What should CITGO be doing better here?
I guess the main issue that we have with CITGO is that they haven't talked about them. At least, I haven't seen a public statement from CITGO saying, "We sent these six employees to Venezuela. They were unjustly detained. They didn't do anything wrong about that. We have proof, because, of course, CITGO has all the documents, and the Venezuelan government will just have to return them, set them free.” That's the first shock that we had with CITGO, I guess. Still, up to this day, [(52:00)]I don't expect them to do it. It is too late. The last encounter we had as a family with CITGO was during the trial to get some information from them to use in the trial. It wasn't possible. They just said every time, "I can't provide that information. That's sensitive information. We won't turn that to you." They haven't been helpful at all, at least on that side.
As you have mentioned, 10 days after he was detained, they cut his salary. They even withdrew money from his bank account. They made a payment to him in December, and immediately, an hour after, they withdrew the money from the bank account. They even went that far. It has been a pretty tough relationship. I have seen other companies going through that. Even in Venezuela, I remember Chevron having an issue with an employee. A cable company, DirecTV, they have an issue with their employees, too, and they were very active with them. When I saw that, I just said, "Why can't CITGO do the same?" That's it. Sometimes, the family just needs to feel that someone is backing up the family. We didn't feel that way with CITGO[(54:00)], but at least we have other people backing us. We have the US government backing us. At this point, I don't need CITGO for backup because they didn't do it, on any point. I guess that is a conversation that we're going to have with them. Right now, we're just focused on bringing our father back.
I completely understand. Now, what should the United States government be doing better?
Well, actually we have been having a lot of meetings with them. We have SPEHA from Ambassador Carstens. I know you have heard about him through all our families, but I'm just going to back them up. He's just an amazing guy. We have tons of meetings with him. He went down to Texas and met my mom twice. We just know that he's a genuine guy. He shares all the information whenever he can and if he's not able to do it, he just says it straight forward. "Hey, I am not able to share this information with you." That's a good start. As soon he took the office, we felt the change. He has been over the period of two Presidents. It was a good call from President Biden to have him running the office, still. In the end, he is not the sole decision-maker. He has to go[(56:00)] to the Secretary Blinken, and Secretary Blinken has to go to President Biden. The US just has to speed up things. They have the tools to do it, but you have to sit down and believe that they need to speed up everything. They have done it in the past. We have seen Trevor Reed being freed due to a swap. We recently heard the rumours about Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan being offered to do a swap for their release. Secretary Blinken has spoken about it, so we know that they have the tools. The tools vary from one country to another, but they have to start thinking and start acting about it.
Sometimes, people get scared when they hear a swap because they just believe that they're releasing someone that has done pretty bad in the US for just an American, and people believe that they are just blackmailing the US Government. Yes, they're doing it. That's the main reason they're keeping Americans hostage around the world. Right now, there is no single paper that can say that doing a swap will make the situation worse around the world. We have a lot of examples to back that up, but I believe that what's getting worst is the situation around the world with Americans[(58:00)] not doing anything.
In the past, I guess, we have a good example which is Jim Foley. He was taken hostage by ISIS, and the US did nothing to release him. He was killed for that. ISIS started taking Americans all over the world more and more, and the US did nothing to at least engage in a conversation with them for their release. I believe the worst action the US can do is not doing anything, and that's the only reason that more and more Americans are getting wrongfully detained around the world. They need to take the tools they have, use it, and stop fearing about them. This is not just about for President Biden because he knows what he has to do. This is just about all the Congress people, all the Reps in the House, all the parties down there in the US. Everyone has to just start thinking about Americans' freedom around the world and stop thinking about we're swapping people just because.
In the end, you're letting an American or innocent person rot in a foreign jail, and on another side, you have a drug trafficker, government operative sitting in an American jail, getting three meals. I know it is hard to swallow that, but if that's an option to release Americans, we need to explore it and if[(60:00)] that’s the tool they need, they just need to do it right away.
President Biden has put out a new executive order, basically declaring hostage-taking and wrongful detention of American citizens abroad a national emergency. What do you think about this? Is it gonna make a significant difference because sanctions and travel bans for persons involved in a hostage-taking or wrongful detention of American citizens abroad were included in this executive order? It basically gives people the tools to hold them accountable to an extent. What are your thoughts on this?
This is something that has to be done. We're glad that the executive order was placed. Again, this is not going to solve anything right away. It is an encouraging first step to do. As I have said earlier, each country has their own particular cases, and talking about Venezuela, sanctions are already in place. Just for our father's case, the judge, the Venezuelan attorney, and I guess one of the guards, they are already sanctioned. They are already on their US sanctions, travel bans, and their visa cancelled from the US. In our case, we're going to say that this was happening before the executive order, but at least SPEHA already has a rule to use and a powerful tool to use[(62:00)]. Once again, this is just a first step and they need to improve but we're glad that this happened.
I agree. It's a good first step. Now, let's see if they can follow through. Another thing I have noticed is the US Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, has recently passed a bipartisan resolution calling for the release of WNBA star, Brittney Griner, held in Russia. They've passed similar bipartisan resolutions calling for the release of Marine veterans, Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, who are also held in Russia. Paul is still being held in Russia, however, Trevor Reed was thankfully, a few months ago, released. The House has also previously passed a bipartisan resolution "expressing concern” over the detention of Americans, Austin Tice and Majd Kamalmaz, currently held in Syria. Now, to date, I have not seen any similar resolution being introduced by Congress for the CITGO 6. Should they introduce a similar resolution?
Yes, of course, they should have a similar resolution for them. The reason I asked Congressman Ted Cruz and some Representatives that sit down there in Texas to start working on that, because this is just proof that the US Congress and the House are backing our family up. This is probably not going to do anything immediately, but it is a way for us to feel relief that they're working on it, because we have encounters with their staff. We have encountered even the congressmen in the past. They personally said that they are going to do whatever they[(64:00)] have in their means to help us, but this is a way of proving that this is not just a shallow words and they are just taking action on this.
Even if it doesn't bring them home immediately, it would definitely help raise awareness of the CITGO 6 among members of Congress and in the media, as well. For our listeners, we've interviewed the families of Trevor Reed, Paul Whelan and Majd Kamalmaz. If you're interested in learning more about these cases, do check their episodes out at podhostagediplomacy.com.
Now, John, you've been campaigning with a number of other American families with loved ones also held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad. The families are calling this campaign the Bring Our Families Home Campaign. Would you like to talk more about this?
Sure. This is a campaign that started about three months ago. I guess that started because of the need of the families to come together and start working together because in the end, we have similars situations. All the families around the world, American families who have a loved one being detained, have the same situation. We share the same problems and we share the same enemies, which are the government or a terrorist group taking their loved ones under their watch. We share a common ally, which is the USG, and we have to push them. We are thankful that Alexandra started this with Everett Rutherford also. She reached out to us and we just said right away, "Of course. We need to jump in on your boat."
I'm going to say that[(66:00)] one of the first meetings that we had with Secretary Blinken was with a meeting with all the families of Americans being held around the world, and there were at least 60 families on that meeting. I was shocked because for the first time, I have seen all the faces facing the same one, and hearing stories about how their loved ones are being taken abroad. Something just clicked in me and just said, "We have to do that together at some point. Of course, everyone have to lead their process." When she appeared at our door, we just said, "Okay, we are going to help you. We want to be there, we want to join you." We recently had the mural meeting in Washington DC, which was made by an artist. This was a beautiful event that we had. We worked together on doing that, and our family wasn't present because they have to attend their jobs, but we felt that we were represented by all the families out there. That was the case. Our voice was heard on that event. We expect more to come about that campaign because we truly believe that when more families join that campaign, it's going to get bigger and bigger, and we're going to have a bigger voice to be heard. So far, we are currently on 18 families, I guess[(68:00)]. I just hope we're able to have more and more families down that campaign because we have to get bigger. I believe that this campaign is aiming to be similar to the MIA campaign back in the 1970, the Missing in Action Families Campaign. We have been working even on a flag that we showed to the public two months ago. It is a good thing to support this campaign.
Now, what can journalists in the news media do to help?
First, verify the information that you share. That's very important. These are regimes and terrorist groups. They're using more and more internet and Twitter and digital information to get out there and try to convince the people that what they are doing is the right thing to do. I know that this is not the case for everyone, but a recent voice hack that is worth sharing is try to read before you post something about a wrongful detainee. The most important thing is the headline that you're putting. We recently saw about Brittney Griner media showing on and saying that she was declared guilty. In the script, "Brittney Griner is guilty," that's it, straightforward. That's not the case. There is more about that, and we have the same issue when our father’s case [(70:00)] trial ended and they were declared guilty on that unfair trial, the media just said "CITGO 6 have been declared guilty," that's it. When people just read that, it doesn't make sense to them. That's the first and most important thing that we have to do.
Second one is just help the other families to get their voices heard on media, and help them to share their stories because that's a challenge that a family has to overcome, just get more attention to their cases and get more people to know about them. The only way that a family can overcome the situation is to get help from the media, independent media, mainstream media, and getting help from them.
What can members of the public do to help bring your father home, John?
If you're someone just watching the news and getting up to date on what's going on on Americans being wrongfully detained, the first thing that you should do is to go and ask your congressman, your congresspeople and your reps out of your State, what are they doing to help Americans to get back to the US? The second is, there are a number of NGOs out there helping American hostage families around the world, we have the James Foley Foundation, we have the Amer Fakhoury Foundation, we have the Hostage US. We have the campaign that we are recently launching, and we also have a Governor Richardson [(72:00)] through the Richardson Centre, helping. Try to contact them, follow them on social media, and help them to share their voices. If you feel affected to a particular case, in our case, the Free Jose Pereira Campaign, you can follow us on Twitter and try to keep updated on what's going on. Share the information that we're sharing on our Twitter. Basically, be more active as a citizen on that matter.
If I'm a member of the public, what are the key points you would want someone like me to say to my congressman, senator, or governor? What would you like me to say to the White House, the key bullet points? What would you want me to say?
The first one is to go to the internet, get the name of your congressman, your congresswoman, your representative. Usually, you will find on the internet all their contact information. Once you get all that information on your desk, write a letter. The key bullet points have to be, "What are you doing to bring these Americans back? What can we do to help you? When are you going to raise this issue back to Congress or back to the House?" I guess those are the three key points that you need to write about. This can be a letter, email, or even a direct message from Twitter, or even a tweet, just mention them. Just raise awareness on them and mention them.
John, we're almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else that you'd like to mention?
Being a family[(74:00)] that has been dealing with this situation for almost five years and having gone through a lot, I would say that my main advice for all the families who are just starting this horrendous path is keep your faith. Try to keep your faith high, your morals high, and never back down on anything that's going to happen. Even in the worst day, I try to keep my faith up and believe that everything is going to get better. I know it's going to take probably a long time. Hopefully, this is going to end sooner than later for you. You're not alone. There are a lot of families living the same hell that you're living. There are families that are a little bit experienced on that. Our family, we've been dealing with this for five years. If you feel that you're alone, contact all the NGOs that I just mentioned, contact whatever family, and you're going to have a friend on us.
John, I said this before and I'll say it again, we'll be right here by your side until your father comes back home. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today.
Thank you, Daren, for having me on your podcast and helping our families to share our information, share our sad stories, and being there. It really means a lot to us. Thank you.
Thank you for listening to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. Thank you for giving your time and for showing these families that they're not alone, that there are good caring people out there, willing to stand by their side and help in any way possible.
Because if enough people care, then the right people will care enough. This is a basic rule of thumb that is true for all campaigning.
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