LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) -Thanksgiving week 2017: Tomeu Vadell and five other Citgo executives in the U.S. are called to what they think is a brief business meeting in Venezuela. Once there, they are ambushed, imprisoned, and remain there still. Vadell was plant manager of the Lake Charles refinery. His family is devastated.
Wife Dennysse and daughter Cristina live in Lake Charles and fear for his health and safety; especially, after receiving a recent picture,
“He has lost 60 pounds and not in a good way. Malnutrition can take a toll on your body. The body can take only so much,” Dennysse said.
Dennysse went to Venezuela to see him briefly last summer and was stunned.
“I looked around, I saw all these men. I didn’t recognize my husband he was so thin. He looked like a prisoner of war,” she said.
Five of the men, including Vadell, have dual citizenship in the U.S. and Venezuela. They are allowed brief phone calls, sometimes sporadically. The families are told the men are held on corruption or embezzlement type charges—charges their family members say are absolutely bogus.
“There’s no basis for the allegations that are being put on him. He’s a man of honesty and integrity. You can ask anyone,” Cristina said.
“If somebody would have told me this was going to happen, I would have laughed in their faces. My husband is incapable of doing anything wrong,” Dennysse said.
And the men being held have had 13 court dates now, none of which results in a hearing.
“Their human rights have been completely violated. There’s no due process in Venezuela,” Dennysse said.
“We are concerned and we’re looking for support from anyone in government; any individual that help us bring him and the other men home,” Cristina said.
They say Citgo headquarters in Houston does not seem to be trying to help the men or their families and that bothers Cristina.
“They have the resources, I think, to help the families and to be able to help bring these men home,” Cristina said.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in an interview they are “working diligently to make sure that no American is wrongfully detained....”
Dennysse says on Feb. 22 she will, for the second time, be separated from her soulmate on their 33rd wedding anniversary.
"I miss him dearly and I know my children do too," she said tearfully.
The Vadell’s other children, Veronica and Diego, live out of town.
They appreciate any and all help anyone can provide to end the nightmare for the Citgo 6 and their families.
We emailed Citgo in Houston, but have not heard back. Citgo is a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state owned oil company PDVSA now headed by Asdrubal Chavez, a former oil minister and cousin of the late leader Hugo Chavez.
Another of the captives with close ties to Lake Charles is Alirio Zambrano who worked at the Citgo refinery here for about 15 years.
Zambrano and his wife raised their children here. His two oldest daughters graduated from Sulphur High. In 2014, Zambrano moved to Corpus Christi.
The families don’t discuss the politics of the situation, focusing only on securing the freedom of their loved ones.