Next month will mark the two-year anniversary of six Citgo employees being imprisoned in Venezuela. As their families keep fighting to bring their loved ones home, so does the work to keep the public and politicians aware of the situation.
A website, citgo6coalition.org, is asking the "U.S. government and its allies" to "secure the immediate release of the Citgo 6." So far, it has received 1,347 out of 5,000 signatures.
Alirio Zambrano, vice president and general manager of the refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, was one of the six arrested the weekend before Thanksgiving 2017 during an emergency business trip and placed in a basement holding cell. His daughter, Alexandra, helped create the website and organized a march in Houston Oct. 13.
"At the end, it was a family effort, but Alexandra was the visionary behind the whole thing," Gabriela Zambrano-Hill, Alexandra's sister, said on Monday. "We are aiming for the highest level of advocacy for our men. The petition will help us do that."
"We want people to be aware they're still over there," said Alirio's wife, Jennifer.
Also arrested were Zambrano's brother, Jose Luis Zambrano, vice president of shared services; Tomeu Vadell, vice president of refining and former general manager of the Lake Charles refinery; Gustavo Cardenas, vice president of shareholder relations, government and public affairs; Jorge Toledo; vice president of supply and marketing; and Citgo's President Jose Angel Pereira.
Jennifer said she hasn't spoken to Alirio in eight months. The Citgo 6 were recently allowed to make phone calls, but the conversations are often short because the calls are difficult to connect. The conversations are in a room with all six prisoners.
"They maybe have 30 seconds to say whatever to whomever they're calling," she said. "They're given three minutes, which includes trying to get the call through on a rotary phone. There is no privacy."
"The calls (made) were just to see if the phones work," Zambrano-Hill said.
Jennifer said the family has depleted its savings keeping Alirio fed and providing him with medication.
"We actually pay for them to be prisoners," she said. "We support them in every way. That's another hardship."
Despite the "many of thousands of dollars spent," providing Alirio with food, water and other essentials has kept him healthy, Zambrano-Hill said. The family told the American Press in March that he had lost at least 50 pounds since being imprisoned.
"We aren't concerned about him starving to death," she said of the current conditions. "They have been relatively stable on that front."
More than 250 people attended the march in Houston, Zambrano-Hill said.
"It was amazing to see how far people were willing to travel and step up to volunteer," she said. "Seeing everyone in one place, it was inspiring."
Jennifer said they were able to communicate the march to the Citgo 6 while it was being planned. The prisoners were able to map out their holding cell to take part in the march.
"They were doing the laps at the same time with us," Jennifer said.
Zambrano-Hill said communication with Citgo officials has improved recently.
"Before, there was complete radio silence," she said.
Days after the march, U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas., spoke on the House floor and called for the release of the Citgo 6.
Zambrano-Hill said the family is open to "as much help as we can get."
"The biggest development is increasing public awareness through the march and the coalition," she said. "We will never give up on the Citgo 6, and they won't give up."