The US government have stated that Tomeu Vadell, an American citizen, has been wrongfully detained in Venezuela since November 2017 and have called on the Venezuelan authorities to release him unconditionally. Tomeu Vadell is one of the Citgo 6 and his family believe he is being used as a bargaining chip by the Venezuelan government to extract concessions from the United States.
Tomeu is a husband, a father and now a grandfather from Lake Charles, Louisiana. We speak to his daughter, Veronica Vadell Weggeman to find out what we can do to help bring her father home.
We discuss his arrest by Venezuela’s military counter-intelligence unit, the deplorable conditions of his detention, his sham trial and sentence, surveillance of American citizens on US soil by Venezuelan intelligence agencies, political tensions between the US and Venezuela, other members of the Citgo 6, going public with the Free Tomeu Vadell campaign as well as what the public, Congress, State Department, President Biden and journalists can do to help free Tomeu Vadell.
If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this interview on YouTube.
For more information on Tomeu Vadell, please check out the following:
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Free Tomeu Vadell
[00:00:00] Daren: Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work 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. I'm Daren Nair and I've had the honour of campaigning with many of these families for years.
[00:00:24] These are some of the most courageous and resilient people. People who have never given up hope. People who will never stop working to reunite their families. And we will be right there by their side until their loved ones are back home. Thank you for joining us. And now let's meet this week's guest.
[00:00:48] Welcome to this week's episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. It's been almost four years since Tomeu Vadell, an American citizen from Louisiana, a husband. a father, and now a grandfather, has been unjustly detained in Venezuela. The U S government has stated that he's unlawfully detained. Former Secretary of State.
[00:01:08] Mike Pompeo has called on the Venezuelan authorities to release Tomeu Vadell unconditionally and return him to the United States. Tomeu's defense attorney, Jesus Loreto has said his client appeared to have been caught up in a geopolitical conflict of which he was not apart. The Vadell family have said that Tomeu is a hostage being used as a pawn to extract concessions from the United States.
[00:01:34] This would be hostage diplomacy. I'm joined today by Tomeu's daughter, Veronica Vadell Weggeman. Veronica. I'm sorry for what you, your father and your family are going through. On top of that, I know you've had to evacuate your home because of the hurricane. So, uh, thank you for taking the time to join us.
[00:01:54] Veronica: Yeah. Hi, Daren, thank you so much for having us and helping us to be able to share our story.
[00:02:01] Daren: It's an honour. I'm happy to help in any way possible. And so are our listeners, um, could you walk us through what happened to your father? I know it's been almost four years. So could you just walk us through what happened to your father?
[00:02:13] When was the last time you saw him and what happened since? So
[00:02:16] Veronica: today's day 1,389 days that we've been separated from my father and his unjust detainment in Venezuela. Um, he went down there on November 19th. It was a Sunday. He got a last minute phone call from work. He currently is still employed from Citgo and they
[00:02:36] sent him down to Venezuela for a last minute meeting. In November of the week of Thanksgiving of 2017. He had some meetings on Monday. He had some meetings scheduled for Tuesday morning, and then he was supposed to fly out Tuesday afternoon and be home by Tuesday night. However, he never was able to make it back home. During his meeting on Tuesday morning, the office room, the meeting room, that they were in.
[00:03:04] Six of the men that traveled down there were arrested and they were taken to the D C G I M, which is a military counter-intelligence building in Venezuela in Caracas, the capital. Um, and they were held there for about two and a half years until they were transferred to house arrest. And then to now a new location called the SEBIN.
[00:03:25] And now currently again, under house arrest.
[00:03:29] Daren: So, I'm sorry that's happened to your father and the other members of the Citgo six. That's what they're called, right? Your father and your colleagues they're collectively known as the Citgo 6.
[00:03:38] Veronica: Yes, correct. So we actually coined that term once we started going public with this case, because it was 6 Citgo employees that went down to Venezuela and they never came home on a business meeting.
[00:03:50] My. Technically eight members of the Citgo, uh, company went down there and only six were arrested and two one, came back home and continued working. And one, uh, apparently seemed to, might've been tipped off right before it happened. And the, he was able to escape.
[00:04:11] Daren: Can you just explain what Citgo is ?
[00:04:14] Veronica: Yeah, of course. So Citgo is an oil company here based in the United States. They have three major refineries, one in Lake Charles, Louisiana, one in Corpus Christi, Texas, and one in Lamont, Chicago, Illinois area. The mother company is PDVSA, which is an oil company in Venezuela, which I'm not, I can't recall what year they were nationalized by the Venezuelan government.
[00:04:38] So technically the Venezuelan government owns PDVSA, which owns Citgo.
[00:04:44] Daren: And you mentioned that, the people who stormed the meeting and, took your father and his other five colleagues. These were men in masks and guns, uh, members of military intelligence. Right? So. The place where they're being kept or were kept for the first two and a half years was the DGCIM.
[00:05:04] building, the Directorate General of Military Counter Intelligence. Were they actually arrested on any national security charges?. Because unless that's the case, I wouldn't expect military counter intelligence to knock the door down and arrest you. If you haven't done anything, which is a violation of national security.
[00:05:26] Veronica: Correct. And that's, that was what was baffling for us I mean my father, like I said, when he was taken on November 21st, there were armed men masked with, it was about. What of them? 12, 18, something like that. Military personnel that came in masked with large weapons, took them in vans and to the DCGIM.
[00:05:49] Now you would think that some crime like that, like you just said, they would deserve to go there. The D C G I M is mainly a place for military personnel to hunker down, to live, to train. They have a very small holding cell, which is two to three floors underground. It can hold maybe up to 20 people.
[00:06:08] And throughout the first two and a half years of my father's stay there, that place was extremely overcrowded. Um, sometimes it would get to over a hundred people or more inside each cell.
[00:06:19] Daren: Could you talk to us about the deplorable conditions in which your father and his colleagues were held? Because I know your dad is he's 62.
[00:06:27] Now. When he was taken, he was, he was about 59 60. I know he has heart problems. Uh, could you just talk about the deplorable conditions in which he was kept for two and a half years?
[00:06:39] Veronica: Sure. So the deplorable conditions at the DCGIM, um, first of all, no ventilation. They were, I guess that underground two stories under no AC, no running water.
[00:06:53] Um, you know, it's just no medical care. Uh, sometime I mean we haven't been told many of the things just because I think people try to shield us from the deplorable conditions. But as far as sanitary, the men who would have to clean themselves. It's as you can imagine, no running water. So then how can you shower?
[00:07:14] How can you flush a toilet down those types of things, you know, plumbing, um, as far as well as, you know, cockroaches other rats, other kinds of critters and things in there, and then just the overcrowding. The, in both places. So for example, that DCGIM, and the SEBIN, which both places he was held at both have lower standards than the Nelson Mandela standards for the UN for conditions in order for someone to be held.
[00:07:45] Um, so you could imagine what kind of a place that would be.
[00:07:49] Daren: We spoke about briefly him having heart problems. I understand that he didn't have much if any access to regular health care, is that right?
[00:08:00] Veronica: Right. So my father, I mean, as, as any human being, right, the, the body just slowly deteriorates, um, he might be. As he says, he likes to stay strong mind, body, and spirit, but the body has its limitations.
[00:08:16] He was taken when he was 59 and he's currently 62 years old. He has several health conditions, heart, kidney, others that I don't feel comfortable sharing, just because of the fact that it's his personal information. But regardless. of a health condition or not living in such a place with no ventilation, no access to sunlight.
[00:08:38] They would go months without seeing the sun. Maybe they would go out once. Um, I did mention earlier, but they were also the first year in the DCGIM they were starved pretty much. He had about, they calculated roughly 400 to 600 calories a day. And that's why he had such a incredible weight loss. The first year he lost about 60 pounds.
[00:09:00] Um, and the DCGIM is also notorious for torture. They have special rooms and things like that, where they perform those tasks. And so all those things combined with a person that already has some health conditions is just very, it's a cocktail for disaster. It's very scary for us as a family, worried about him and his health and how it could potentially deteriorate very quickly.
[00:09:25] Daren: also, uh, state on your website that he had no family visits. Is that right?
[00:09:32] Veronica: Yeah. So my father is the son of Spanish immigrants. My grandparents immigrated from Spain to Venezuela in the fifties. Um, my mother's from Ecuadorian descent and her family migrated to Venezuela back in the day when Venezuela was a hub for immigrants to go to similar to the United States.
[00:09:48] Right. And so, um, The only family that we have in Venezuela was each other. My family was, uh, my father was transferred to the U S in 99. So we have no family. Um, and with the current situation in Venezuela, a lot of our friends that stayed are also gone. And so there's nobody there to actually go visit him.
[00:10:09] And there hasn't been, but he's maybe he's had a total of three visits the whole time he's been. Um, detained and my mother was able to fly down there to see him. Uh, she saw him three times total and she hasn't been back since 2019.
[00:10:25] Daren: Can you talk to us about the trial? Because I know for the first two years there was no trial at all, which is unlawful, according to Venezuelan law.
[00:10:35] No proof wrongdoing was presented initially. The trial has taken place. He has been sentenced. Could you just talk to us about that trial?
[00:10:45] Veronica: So the trial started, we feel due to the pressure that we were putting publicly with, um, State Department, uh, the Richardson Center, et cetera.
[00:10:56] And it was practically a sham trial. They took over two and a half years to get it going, which like you said, is against Venezuelan law. So if we want to talk about first of all, how legal everything that the Venezuelan government is doing, they can't even follow their own rules as far as. Following and having a trial when they're supposed to, after a year of detention, then you don't have a trial you should be released.
[00:11:21] Um, they were condemned in November 26th, 2020 last Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving day, specifically knowing how much that would hurt all the families, because we haven't been able to spend a Thanksgiving with our father, uh, under false charges. They've been charged with different corruption charges for some type of.
[00:11:41] Negotiation, um, refinancing of some deal within Citgo that never went to be.
[00:11:50] Daren: There were reports from Reuters that the charges were false, because they said this deal was done in secret by Citgo, by the Citgo 6 members when in fact there were board meeting minutes or company meeting minutes that evidence that Venezuelan ministers were aware that this deal was in fact taking place.
[00:12:18] There was another article from Reuters that stated a military or intelligence agency official from Venezuela said in court that these six individuals, including your father were subjected to surveillance on US soil for at least a year before they were actually lured back to Caracas and taken.
[00:12:40] Yes. And if that is true, it would be a violation of US law. So can you just talk to us a bit about that?
[00:12:47] Veronica: Yeah. I mean when we first heard that statement in court, when the lawyer informed us of it, uh, we were baffled, it was crazy to hear that my father was being surveyed here. Um, if, if there was any wrongdoing.
[00:13:01] There he should have been arrested on US soil because the crimes supposedly are for something done within Citgo, which is an American company on American soil. So he should be arrested and tried here. However, there are no charges here. Um, Venezuela seemed to have lured him down there. Like I said, these are the six men for just to practically use them as pawn pieces.
[00:13:28] Yeah. And as far as the trial and them being lured down there on these false charges, right. So from what I understand, because the refineries, um, engineering business that is not my forte, that is not the world that I live in as far as what I do for a living. Um, but from what I understand, and what I've read is that.
[00:13:51] The refinancing deal is something that happens very often in this type of environment in this world. They refinance constantly these companies, et cetera. It's not the first time that apparently there has been even a refinancing deal within Citgo, um, to me, and from what it seems like they were charged saying that, that this deal had gone through when, in fact, how can it possibly go through my father at the time
[00:14:16] was filling two jobs. Currently, he was a Plant Manager in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and he had just been appointed in the beginning of November of 2017 as the VP of refining. So what does that mean? He is pretty much like the manager the person that runs and looks over the three main refineries of Citgo within
[00:14:40] the USA, the one in, like I said, in Lamont, Corpus Christi and Lake Charles, and he was currently still the manager of Lake Charles, because he was doing that position VP as an interim. The person that was in that job had just recently retired and some of the other gentlemen were, again in not that position, it was like public relations.
[00:14:58] The other person was, uh, he was, uh, the head of the refinery in Corpus Christi, et cetera. And so these type of people can't make those types of decisions. You know, they can't go off and say, okay, we're going to refinance this company. We're going to get this deal going, et cetera. They don't, they're not in a place to do that.
[00:15:17] And there is a system there's a, the board members have to be on, on top as far as the board members in Citgo with and within the board members of PDVSA the board members and PDVSA, and most of them are government officials and there are documents online and that are, you know, people can look up that are, uh, free to the public because they were in the court files that demonstrate that several people within Maduro's government knew about this deal that was potentially in the works of happening.
[00:15:49] Um, But it never did. And when it was supposed to happen was earlier in 2017, when my father was not even interim VP at the time, he wasn't even really involved with that. He was just working within the refinery here in Lake Charles. So, you know, when we were finally told that these were the charges that this is what's happening, it just makes absolutely no sense because dad, um, he is a family man who has worked for.
[00:16:17] You know, 36, 36 years, 35 years of experience as a mechanical engineer, he worked 17 in PDVSA. We moved to the U S in, uh, 1999, and he's worked 18 years in Citgo moving up the ladder as an engineer as progression would and nothing to do with being able to refinance a whole company. I also
[00:16:37] Daren: understand that no reporters or human rights groups were allowed access to the trial.
[00:16:42] Is that right?
[00:16:44] Veronica: Correct. Um, that's something that has definitely, uh, noteworthy. They did not allow for, um, for the free press to go in. They didn't allow for, for the UN to go in to even at least see the men at the time. And then before. Uh, when they were taken a few times to court or for different documents and things like that, the US embassy officials were not allowed.
[00:17:09] Uh, that was at the time when the U S still had an embassy in Venezuela, they have been since booted out and they're currently in Columbia. And they weren't even allowed to go see them. They never had counselor access. Uh, dad is American Venezuelan and therefore with both nationalities, he should be able to have counselor access also from the U S and he was always denied.
[00:17:30] Um, the Venezuelan government always said that they did not see him as American, even though he had an American, he has an American passport.
[00:17:37] Daren: Could you just talk to us about the political climate between US and Venezuela? I know the previous presidential administration, President Trump imposed sanctions on Venezuela and they've severed diplomatic ties, which has obviously made it much harder to bring your father and the other members of the Citgo six home.
[00:17:58] Could you just talk to us a bit about the political context and the importance of an oil company like Citgo , which is owned by PDVSA and just Venezuelan oil in general. And how that relates to the political tensions between Venezuela and US at the moment.
[00:18:15] Veronica: Yeah, sure. So Venezuela and the U S uh, currently have a very hostile relationship, right
[00:18:22] we've barely, we don't have any kind of dialogue. There's no kind of communication. No kind of diplomacy. Everything is very hostile. Um, Ever since, uh, former President Trump was in charge, he constantly would sanction Venezuela for different things, which made it harder and harder for them to collect either money from Citgo or sell and produce their oil, et cetera.
[00:18:47] So that kind of already puts this tension where they, when this happened, when my father was taken, I, we believe. They're using them as bargaining chips in order to get some relief in these sanctions, sanctions relief, start dialogue, et cetera. Um, and it's very hard for us to be able to we're it's we're in the middle of this geopolitical storm, as you will, right
[00:19:12] we are, um, at the mercy of two countries who, since President Trump's era do not want to discuss, do not want to talk, do not want to have dialogue. So you have these families that are suffering.
[00:19:27] Daren: Can you talk to us about the sentence? So I believe your father was sentenced to eight years and 10 months. Is that right?
[00:19:35] Veronica: Yeah. Eight years in 11 months, I believe I could be wrong, but so they sentenced him in November 26th, 2020, like I said, and they, um, They sentenced him for eight years, 11 months. However, supposedly they're allowing for the three years at the time when he was sentenced, that will count towards this sentence.
[00:19:57] So technically he has, you know, five years and 11 months left. You know, we're not really even hopeful with that. If he were we're hoping. And I pray to God that we don't have to get to that point to where we have to wait for him to finish a sentence to come home because he's an innocent man under bogus charges.
[00:20:16] But we've seen with other cases that are politicized like this, that even though the people complete their sentence, the government afterwards doesn't want to let them go either. So they continue holding them.
[00:20:26] Daren: So this is why your father's defense attorney. Jesus Loreto said that his client appeared to have been caught up in a geopolitical conflict of which he was not a part.
[00:20:39] Veronica: Correct. So dad has never been, um, a political figure of any sorts. This type of situation is just beyond our mindset or it's comprehensible. He went down there for a business meeting, never came home and we're stuck in this geopolitical where we're, you know, storm or we're at the mercy of two countries that just need to sit down and dialogue and get these men home.
[00:21:06] Um, the US continues doing certain things and Venezuela as well, as far as maybe giving some concessions for this or that, or wanting certain things. I don't know, we don't believe that that's right. That they need to sit down and if they want to do anything first with Venezuela is to resolve this issue.
[00:21:26] The Americans that are being held.
[00:21:27] Daren: Can you talk to us briefly about the other members of the Citgo 6, because your dad was taken with these five other colleagues, um, five of the Citgo six, including your father are American citizens and one of them is a permanent resident. Could you just talk to us briefly about the other members of the Citgo 6?
[00:21:45] Veronica: Sure. So they are all men in their fifties, dad's in his early sixties. Uh, all family men, they all have families. They, uh, the other five live in Texas. We live in Louisiana and. Um, they've had to weather this altogether, their comradery of being two and a half years together in the DCGIM. Constantly confined into one room.
[00:22:09] They, uh, then were under house arrest. Some of them have family down there and they were able to, you know, have a place to stay, et cetera, visits, whatnot. Um, And yeah, and then they were all again, back taken to the SEBIN, which is a different notorious jail. And they all shared a room there as well. So they've been through this together all six of them.
[00:22:32] Daren: So in terms of their names it's Gustavo Cardenas, uh, I apologize if I'm mispronouncing their names Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano and Jose Pereira. Right. Okay. And they were all kind of at similar levels in management, like your father, or were they, were they at different levels?
[00:22:56] Veronica: Uh, uh, around the same, I mean, you have, uh, I don't remember exactly what all of their exact positions were. Some of them were VPs. Like I said, one of the other gentlemen was the manager of the refinery in Corpus Christi, which what would that person have to do with a refinancing deal of the whole company.
[00:23:14] Right. Uh, and then you had the CEO, which is Jose Pereira, um, who was the CEO of Citgo, the other men were within management and things like that. What we found was very weird and tricky. So when they were taken, dad disappeared on November 21st for 33 days. Uh, for those first 33 days, we didn't know if he was alive or dead.
[00:23:43] Uh, there's no playbook. To know on what to do when this happens. When we found out that that happened, I immediately left school. Um, I was finishing my graduate program and, uh, my husband and I drove to Lake Charles to be with my mother to find out what was going on. That none of the other families, we barely knew each other.
[00:24:02] My mom kind of knew some of them through work things and things like that. We came over here, started trying to call the embassy down there. Nobody knew anything Citgo didn't know anything. Everything was just like a blur. And for 33 days, we had no idea if he, where he was, if he was alive, what he needed, et cetera.
[00:24:23] And we were able to talk to him on December 24th at like five in the morning, they allowed for him to call and it was like a two, maybe three minute phone call. Uh, just to say that, Hey, you know, I'm alive, I'm here and I need XYZ. And that was it. And then we didn't hear from him again until I don't know.
[00:24:42] I can't even remember, but it was weeks.
[00:24:44] Daren: So what you mentioned, the fact that there is no playbook for families of hostages to follow is absolutely right. So I've campaigned with many family members of hostages who are victims of state sponsored hostage, taking also known as hostage diplomacy. All of them say that if they could do it over again, they would go to the media immediately.
[00:25:06] And what I mean by that is some of them tend to stay quiet for a few years or a few months, uh, because if they've spoken to either their state department or the foreign office or whatever, the equivalent of that is in their respective country and the government always tells them. Uh, let us solve this behind closed doors, keep quiet.
[00:25:25] Um, if you go to the media, things become messy, let us handle this. And they trust the foreign office or their state department. But then after a few months, a few years, nothing happens and you start to realize, they start to realize. No action is actually being taken to free their loved ones. So they all end up going to the media.
[00:25:53] Um, can you talk to us about your decision to go public and launch the Free Tomeu Vadell campaign?
[00:25:59] Veronica: Sure. So you're absolutely right, Daren. Uh, we have, we were quiet for about a little over a year. We were scared in the beginning because we didn't know what to do. There was a lot of weird things that were happening within Citgo at the time here in the US.
[00:26:16] Uh, it was very scary times we had no leadership. And so we decided slowly to, you know, talk to State Department to talk to the embassy and things like that. Um, and like you said, no one really gave us a straight answer and everyone kind of. Manipulated us almost. I want, I want to say that word because it kind of felt that way.
[00:26:40] We were pretty much told to be quiet. And if we would do it over again, I don't think we would have stayed quiet from day one. Uh, we did it to in order to protect our father, because we were scared for him. We were scared for ourselves here because we didn't know what, what was going on. And it took, it took about it was in.
[00:27:04] January of 2018, not 20 18, 20 19. When there was, there was someone that was, was able to take a picture of our father and they were able to send it to us to see what he looked like after a year of not a year and about two months of not seeing him. And once we saw that photo and saw how much that, you know, he had lost weight.
[00:27:27] How terrible. He looked that we decided that the silence was not no longer protecting him no longer protecting us. So we decided to go public. And that was when we first came out with one of our main articles in the AP and Associated Press. Um, and they were so kindly enough to give us a space and a voice to be able to, you know, call out on the U S government and the Venezuelan government for what they were doing to them.
[00:27:54] Uh, and we were able to publish that photo which you have, which I have sent to you, which is the before and after. So
[00:28:01] Daren: what can members of the public do to help bring your father home? Um, so I'm assuming they will be speaking to their Congressman, their Senators, their Governors, um, what should they be saying? What are the talking points?
[00:28:18] Veronica: So we asked the public to. You know, follow us on social media if they can. Read up on the stories, I try to be quite active as much as we can be, um, and just call their representatives, call State Department, if they can, uh, call Congress. Um, just put pressure on this current administration.
[00:28:41] We were hopeful because we had seen former President Trump bring a lot of American hostages and unjustly held detainees back home. Uh, however, we kept seeing how harsh they were with Venezuela and how they weren't incorporating us in their policy. We're hopeful that hopefully Biden's administration will be different, however, it's September and we're still in this unknown pile.
[00:29:02] What is going to happen with Venezuela and their policy? And so we ask people to, if they have any contacts to please call them and help us plea for our cause, uh, to put pressure on them, to bring them home and ask why they're not home, what are they doing? These are six innocent men, six families that are suffering.
[00:29:20] They're all several of them that including my father have become grandparents during this, these times they've missed, you know, several birthdays, anniversaries, et cetera. Uh, Christmases, Thanksgivings, that time will never we'll never get back. And so we really, really need the public's help to put pressure.
[00:29:40] Daren: You mentioned what the public can do is follow yourselves on social media.
[00:29:43] I know you have a website called tomeuvadell.org. On Twitter, I know you have a Twitter account. I know there is a free Free Citgo 6 Twitter account. Can you just tell our listeners how to follow you on Twitter?
[00:30:07] Veronica: Yeah, sure. So you can follow me as vvadell, V as in Victor, V again, A D E L L um, that's Veronica, Vadell.
[00:30:16] Um, and I usually will post updates, articles, et cetera, opinions of what is happening and then the Free Citgo 6 occasionally will also post things on all the gentlemen. As well as some of the other families have there's embedded in there too. So you can see as if you follow one of us, you'll start to see the trend of all of the different things that are happening to stay updated with, um, what we need the public to do.
[00:30:41] Daren: even though your father hasn't been freed, there has been some progress in the last nine months. So he's now, under house arrest as opposed to in prison or in a basement of a military intelligence facility. He is under house arrest. Can you talk to us about his current living conditions?
[00:31:03] Veronica: Sure. So as far as, um, early, as.
[00:31:07] It was April 30th of this year. Uh, he was granted house arrest as well as the other five men. Unfortunately, we don't have any family in Venezuela. We don't have any friends and it's very hard to find, um, a place that can be rented. For such a high profile case. Right? Uh, so we had to kind of scramble with the lawyers to get assistance, to find a place for my father to stay when he called us on, on April 30th to, uh, to say that he was being granted house arrest again for the second time, uh, we found this, uh, little mini garage that is next to a house that we rent and the garage has been converted into two bedroom, two bath.
[00:31:48] Where he stays there as well as Gustavo Cardenas , because he also does not have property, family, et cetera, where he is able to stay at. Um, so my father brought him along to stay with him and they both share this very tiny space. Which is great in the sense that we think that, you know, this is hopefully a stepping stone to coming home because it's called house arrest, but it's house arrest in another country when your house is here in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where I'm currently at, um, and you know, He's not home.
[00:32:23] And he's an innocent man. This is the second time that he's been in house arrest. So we're always constantly holding our heart in our hands because the last time he was taken out of house arrest very abruptly because something happened within the Trump administration that the government of Venezuela did not like, and they were taken.
[00:32:41] Um, and again, they were missing for about 45, 50 days. And we didn't know where he was at the time. Again. Rush of emotions to where we're being constantly toyed with. Uh, and we don't, you know, we don't want to go through that again and just, we feel that this was potentially a nice offering, a gesture as you will from Maduro to President Biden.
[00:33:04] Um, but we don't think it's enough. I, if you want to have dialogue. With the U S then you should not be holding US citizens hostage. You shouldn't be holding them unjustly detained, hostage, whatever it is that you want to terminology that you want to use, they need to be released before there's any kind of dialogue between both countries.
[00:33:25] Daren: Now talking about terminology, I understand there is a difference in how the families get treated and the amount of benefits you get to access from the U S government, depending on whether your case is classified as a hostage case or wrongfully detained. Now the U S government doesn't seem to appropriately.
[00:33:49] Identify or recognize victims of state sponsored hostage taking and instead call them wrongfully detained. Now, if you are, it's my understanding and correct me if I'm wrong. If you are a hostage, you get much more support from the U S government than you do, if you are wrongfully detained. So I've seen the statements from the U S government from the State Department, they classify your father and the other members of the Citgo 6 as wrongfully detained.
[00:34:19] So can you just talk to us about the difference in terminology, what you feel needs to change and what better support, the state department, and perhaps the special presidential Envoy for hostage affairs can give you and your family.
[00:34:34] Veronica: Sure. So, I mean, that's been an upward battle since day one. It took a long time for them to even recognize that they were unjustly detained as well.
[00:34:44] It was mainly just, well, they're being arrested. There's charges. We need a way to trial. They're in a sovereign country, blah, blah, blah. But at the same time you have the U S government saying that they don't recognize Maduro as president. How, how does that work? How is it a sovereign country? How are you ignoring this man as, as a president, but then you are acknowledging the fact that these men have been arrested and will have to await a trial that started two and a half years late.
[00:35:12] Um, and things like that, right? Uh, it's been an upward battle with the U S government as well, as far as getting them to even have the title unjust detainee that unlocked a few doors for us in the sense that these do work with SPEHA, which is the special Envoy presidential Envoy for hostage affairs, they do give us some support.
[00:35:31] But like you said, if you have the hostage terminology, the, that definition, you have other organizations and other entities within the state department that will also work with you. We have not been able to unlock those tools and it's been very stressful because sometimes we think, well, maybe if we had them, then we would be in a better place.
[00:35:49] If we would have them helping us then maybe this would be resolved by now. Um, my father went missing for 33 days in the beginning of this. Why was the FBI not involved? This is a missing persons case in another country. We don't know if he's alive or dead. How, how do we not have this type of access? This isn't like the movies where someone goes missing and all of a sudden, you know, the FBI, CIA, whatever these organizations will come and knock on your door.
[00:36:15] We had a fight in order for anyone to give us attention. It took me until April of 2018 from November of 2017 to get a phone call with somebody in State Department. And that was way too long of a period for us to have to wait for anyone to pay attention. Um, and it's, it's really unfortunate because we're not the only one in this type of situation.
[00:36:39] Um, and you would think that while all these, these are six men that are missing. Some, it would, some, someone would do something, but we constantly have different things that happen in the world that just kind of put us on the back burner of the news. You know, uh, we thought that, you know, at a certain point, things were moving along and something happened with President Trump or coronavirus, et cetera.
[00:37:03] And it's just constantly puts us in the back burner as well. So it's been really hard in general. To get to where we are now, too. I think we have some momentum and a decent following. You know, be able to give my, our cause and my father support.
[00:37:19] Daren: So what can the Senate and the House of Representatives do? So I know both the Senate and House of Representatives were able to pass bipartisan resolutions, calling on Russia to release.
[00:37:33] Trevor Reed, who is an American unjustly detained in Russia. Um, I believe they're doing the same thing for Paul Whelan, who is also an American unjustly detained in Russia. Have the Senate or House of Representatives done anything similar for the Citgo 6?
[00:37:48] Veronica: Not really, which is really unfortunate. We have been, you know, uh, Louisiana residents for about 20 years.
[00:37:56] We have had a few times certain Representatives or Senators mention their name once or twice on the Senate floor to discuss those types of things, but they don't ever bring it up. They, and we have requested, we have met with a few of them and things just don't get followed through. And it's really, really tough.
[00:38:15] And I don't understand why. And that's. It's really unfortunate. My father has worked for example, for 18 years here within the community. It's a very small town. Everybody knows everybody. Um, several of the Representatives here know him personally through work stuff, as well as, uh, some of the Senators. Um, and you would think that we would have more support on that.
[00:38:40] And that's something that we constantly try to work on to get more attention, but it's, it's really hard.
[00:38:45] Daren: I understand that your father's house arrest, as well as the other members of the Citgo 6 was actually secured in a humanitarian negotiation by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and the Richardson Center.
[00:39:00] So it's, it's correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my understanding. He was not acting on behalf of the U S government. Uh, he was just acting as a humanitarian with diplomatic experience, uh, and he was able to secure a house arrest for your father and the other members of the Citgo six. Could you just talk to us a bit about your interaction with him and what more can organizations or individuals like former Governor Bill Richardson do to help.
[00:39:32] Veronica: Sure. So, uh, Governor Richardson has been a godsend. He has been very helpful as far as getting this house arrest and different things, moving for us with this case. Uh, it's unfortunate that we have to resolve to other entities besides our government to help us get this across. I had read about him helping and assisting in other cases.
[00:39:53] And so we've reached out to see if he could help us with our's. You know, he gladly accepted our case and thankfully with his work, it seems that that, that is part of the reason why they got house arrest. So it's, it's a wonderful humanitarian gesture being that the overcrowding in these prisons with COVID et cetera, it's a very scary situation for our father and the other five.
[00:40:19] So that's, you know, that's kind of where we're at with them. We're hoping that this is just the first stepping stone. Um, we have other organizations that are wonderful, that have also guided us and have helped us as the James Foley Foundation. They have been really good at connecting us with people.
[00:40:36] Helping us getting more informed about how this is going, you know, uh, my father left and it's my mom, my sister and I and my brother. And it you know, it's very hard when you haven't lived in Venezuela for over 21 years to know how, how to navigate things. We don't have family and things like that. So it's just, it's been really tough.
[00:40:57] Uh, I do believe though, Within this past, I'm going to say a year, year and a half State Department, and SPEHA have upped their game in the sense that they have noticed and have sensed that the difference in the issues that they've had with some of these cases and they have changed their protocol. And it seems that for unfortunately new cases there it's a much better, there's a better protocol to handle them.
[00:41:26] And it's much more organized. So I do believe that we have a good ally there and good support, but, um, for some reason it's just not enough. The deal is not sealed until my father's home.
[00:41:38] Daren: What can president of the United States Joe Biden do to help free your father?
[00:41:45] Veronica: Well, I believe that Maduro constantly keeps calling for him publicly saying that he wants a dialogue.
[00:41:51] He wants to talk to the U S he wants to open, you know, channels of commerce, et cetera, business. And that's great. I would love to see Venezuela prosper. They're going currently through a horrible humanitarian crisis. They're going through a refugee crisis with the second largest refugee under crisis behind Syria, um, COVID crisis, et cetera.
[00:42:11] I would love to see President Biden just say, okay, well, let's, you know, if, if you want to have this going on, if you want to open dialogue, if you want to start exchanging, et cetera, business, that's fine, but I need to have these, these Americans home. I need these guys home in order for us to start a clean slate.
[00:42:31] That is what I'm hoping for. And that is what I want to see. Uh, I haven't seen that yet. They haven't even really defined policy within Venezuela. So we need for him
[00:42:40] Daren: to say that has the president publicly mentioned your father or the, any members of the Citgo 6?
[00:42:47] Veronica: Unfortunately, no. We pushed for Trump for President Trump to do it, and that was never the case.
[00:42:54] It seemed. It's very unfortunate. I don't know if it, he just was never aware of our case. It was never brought up, but, uh, we're trying the same with Biden with President Biden to try and get him to mention him, to make sure that he knows about the case. We've had several national disasters here in Louisiana.
[00:43:13] We live in like the hurricane alley where all these different storms come by. We have all these different issues and we thought that it was serendipitous that President Biden came earlier this year to Lake Charles and to New Orleans where I reside on his tour for infrastructure. And he recently last week was also in New Orleans for due to the hurricane Ida.
[00:43:38] Um, and we have asked city officials in Lake Charles and in New Orleans to please help us bring this case up to him. So I know personally that the Mayor of Lake Charles did bring it up to him. At one point he has asked about them. However, how informed is he? I'm not a hundred percent
[00:43:55] Daren: sure What can journalists and the news media do to help because I know.
[00:44:01] There are a lot of things going on in America. And there are a lot more things going on around the world. Um, and most families need the help of journalists and media organizations to keep the name of their loved ones out there to make sure the public and the politicians remember that there are these Americans currently held hostage or unjustly detained overseas.
[00:44:27] Um, it's important for the families and the hostage themselves. So they know that they are not forgotten and it's important to make sure that the politicians remember to act. So what can journalists and the news media do to help your family?
[00:44:43] Veronica: Sure. Well, we've been grateful so far from many of the journalists that have helped us bring the story out, but, uh, continue giving us that support.
[00:44:52] It's unfortunate that at times they need a new twist, a new spin, a new something that's happening in order to write about the case. I wish they could. Help us just, you know, write, uh, something to get the attention of the U S government or the Venezuelan government to help us with this. But what they need to do is just keep, keep pushing, keep up writing stories about us.
[00:45:14] Keep writing stories about dad as well as I would appreciate it. If they stopped calling them oil businessmen or oil executives, like they usually do in the title. This is more than just six oil executives that are being currently unjustly detained in Venezuela. They are six humans that are currently, this is a human, like living through a humanitarian issue.
[00:45:37] This is more than just business at this point. This is a humanitarian issue that needs to be resolved and these six men need to be brought home before something, um, you know, catastrophic could happen and then it could become, it gets a lot worse.
[00:45:54] Daren: So we're almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else you'd like to mention to our listeners?
[00:45:59] Veronica: You know, just to help us continue with our, with pleading our case, help us put pressure on the U S government, State Department. Help us put pressure on Congress. Uh, if they know anybody or any context or anything that they could think they could help. Even the craziest ideas sometimes work, we've met some, uh, out there characters that have been able to help us in different ways.
[00:46:26] We've had to go through many different struggles that you couldn't imagine throughout these almost four years. Um, so any little bit helps we could do, um, put us in contact with anybody. Follow me on Twitter, go to our webpage to read about what's going on. Um, that's pretty much it.
[00:46:47] Daren: To our listeners, if you would like to send messages of solidarity to the Vadell family, please post them on Twitter using the hashtag Pod Hostage Diplomacy.
[00:46:55] And we will share them with the family. If you have any questions for Veronica or myself, please post them on Twitter as well, using the same hashtag. And if we get many questions, Veronica and I will have a separate Q and a pod to answer them for you. Veronica. I really appreciate your time and I'll be right here by your side with our listeners until your father comes back home.
[00:47:19] Thank you for joining us.
[00:47:21] Veronica: Thank you, Daren so much. I really appreciate you and everything that you're doing to help put our story as well as other families, you know, we're all, uh, we're all in this together. And sometimes certain things that we do might give ideas to other families to be able to help each other out.
[00:47:38] I really enjoyed listening to your other other shows, too. It gives you an insight as to what you could do or. And to feel that you're not alone sometimes late at night, you know, I'm thinking you feel that you're completely alone in this. It's, it's a nightmare. It's like a really bad movie that just won't end.
[00:47:55] Um, but knowing that people like you and then there's other families that are unfortunately going through this really help and give us the strength to cope, to go on.
[00:48:05] Daren: No, you're very welcome. It's an honor to help. Um, and thank you for taking the time to speak to us. And like I said, at the beginning, I'm sorry for what your family's going through.
[00:48:14] I know it's not a club that any family member likes to be or wants to be a part of, but let's hope that there's more awareness about this. And there's more legislation that holds governments that do things like this accountable. Uh, so people like your father can come home and it doesn't happen again to anyone else.
[00:48:33] Thank you very much.
[00:48:42] Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We're not just a podcast, we're a community. If you're on Twitter and would like to post a message of solidarity to the families, or have any questions for us, please tweet it using the hashtag Pod Hostage Diplomacy, and we will get back to you.
[00:48:59] If you like what we're trying to do, please do consider supporting the show financially. You can do this using the "Support The Show" link in the description of this podcast episode. We're grateful for any contributions, no matter how small. Thanks again for listening and we'll be back next week. Take care.