It appears that Venezuela’s illegitimate president, Nicolas Maduro, didn’t appreciate Donald Trump’s invitation for the rightful president, Juan Guaidó, to attend the state of the union address. Maduro responded by rounding up six American oil executives who have been held under house arrest since 2017 and throwing them in a hellhole of a prison.
The Americans have been charged in a dubious corruption case and are still awaiting trial. Maduro apparently wants to use them as bargaining chips at some point, but the families are understandably concerned.
“We are very worried about our father’s health and safety,” Cristina Vadell said of her 60-year-old father, Tomeu.
Prior to their disappearance on Wednesday, she stressed they had had minimal contact with their dad and were not permitted regular phone calls.
“From a psychological standpoint, we can only imagine the trauma,” his other daughter Veronica Vadell said, pointing to the years her father spent in a prison basement without sunlight. “This is about human lives and human rights. This isn’t about politics.”
“We condemn this cruel and indefensible action and demand their long unjust detention come to an end and they be allowed to leave as well,” Mr. Abrams said.
The oil executives have been charged with corruption in Venezuela in connection to a planned $4 billion financing deal with U.S. and Dubai investment funds. Five are naturalized U.S. citizens, while the sixth is a permanent legal resident.
Mr. Abrams described them as political prisoners and called on Venezuela to release them.
The prison they have been sent to is about as bad as it gets.
The overcrowded Helicoide prison, which is controlled by Venezuela’s intelligence police, was the site of a major riot in 2018 during which political prisoners recorded cellphone videos to make desperate pleas for help.
While the Trump administration has applied severe sanctions to the Maduro regime, the dictator has plenty of help avoiding them.
Mr. Maduro has successfully evaded U.S. sanctions with the help of Russia, India and other nations. He also recently granted companies more freedom to operate and allowed U.S. dollars to circulate freely in a further bid to reduce severe pressure from U.S. sanctions.
Mr. Abrams warned that the U.S. could soon punish those involved in sanctioned trade.
“As several administration officials have noted, the Russians may soon find that their continued support of Maduro will no longer be cost free,” Mr. Abrams said. “Others who continue to profit from or support Maduro should take warning.”
Those oil executives won’t be released any time soon, which means their health will deteriorate rapidly. And Guaido’s situation is stalemated. Maduro controls all the levers of power and has a loyal military to back him.
Negotiations are called for, but I don’t think Trump or Pompeo are likely to sit down with Maduro or anyone from his government. International pressure might help, but with Russia holding a veto over any UN resolution, it doesn’t appear there is anything to be done.