Citgo oil executives

Flashback: This photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020 by Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, shows Citgo oil executives Jose Angel Pereira, from left, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, standing outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela. —Photo: AP

SIX American oil executives jailed in Venezuela more than three years ago on corruption charges were granted house arrest on Friday in a gesture of goodwill toward the Biden administration as it reviews its policy toward the politically turbulent South American country.

The partial release of the six employees of Houston-based Citgo was confirmed to The Associated Press by family members of the men.

Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Gustavo Cardenas and Jose Pereira were hauled away by masked security agents while at a meeting in Caracas just before Thanksgiving in 2017. They had been lured to Venezuela in order to attend a meeting at the headquarters of Citgo’s parent, state-run oil giant PDVSA.

The so-called Citgo 6 were granted house arrest once before — in December 2019 — only to be re-jailed two months later on the same day that President Donald Trump welcomed opposition leader Juan Guaidó to the White House.

In releasing the men, Maduro could be betting he’ll receive a better hearing from President Joe Biden, who on the campaign trail called Trump’s policy of regime change an “abject failure” that has served only to strengthen the socialist leader.

Earlier this week, senior Biden officials from several federal agencies were scheduled to meet to weigh US options, including whether to ease up on crippling oil sanctions it inherited and take steps to support an uncertain attempt at dialogue between Maduro and his opponents, according to two people familiar with the plans.

In recent days Maduro’s allies have also quietly discussed with opponents the makeup of a new electoral council, joint efforts to combat the coronavirus and met with diplomats from Norway trying to revive negotiations to end the country’s never-ending political crisis.

However, the continued imprisonment of Americans was seen as a formidable obstacle to any outreach.

Juan Gonzalez, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere, told the AP in an interview Friday that to gauge Maduro’s seriousness about any eventual negotiations he wanted to see “concrete steps by the regime, not words”.

In recent weeks, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was among those working behind the scenes to press Maduro’s government to release the men, all but one of them dual Venezuelan-US nationals.

“This is a positive and important step that should help secure their well-being during the Covid-19 outbreak in Venezuela,” said Richardson in a statement.

Richardson, who has opened back channels to hostile governments in Iran, Cuba and North Korea to win the release of some 40 Americans, vowed to work tirelessly to bring the men back home.

He also called for the release of Luke Denman and Airan Berry — two former Green Berets who participated in a failed raid last year staged from neighboring Colombia — and former US Marine Matthew Heath, who is being held on unrelated allegations.

The six men were convicted of embezzlement last year in a trial marred by delays and irregularities.

They were sentenced to between eight and 13 years of prison for a never-executed proposal to refinance some US$4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50 per cent stake in the company as collateral.

Maduro at the time accused them of “treason”. They all pleaded innocence.

Also pushing for the men’s release was Pope Francis. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, sent a letter last fall to then US Ambassador to the Vatican Callista Gingrich mentioning a letter by the Holy See’s representative in Caracas to Venezuelan authorities urging clemency.

Parolin was scheduled to travel to Venezuela, where he previously serves as the Vatican’s ambassador, to attend Friday’s beatification of Jose Gregorio Hernandez, a 19th century Venezuelan MD dubbed “the doctor of the poor.” But the Vatican No. 2 cancelled the trip at the last minute, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

“We wish our loved one Tomeu were on a plane to the USA with unconditional freedom but are very grateful for this positive step made possible by Gov. Richardson & his team, Secretary of State Antony Blinken & the State Department, the Vatican, and other allies around the world,” the family of Tomeu Vadell said in a statement. —AP


AMERICAN aircraft manufacturer Boeing has branded one of its Max 8 aircraft with Caribbean Airline’s (CAL) logo.

The image was captured and circulated on social media.

With its contract for 12 Max 8 aircraft from the Chicago-based manufacturer still in effect, CAL told the Sunday Express on May 7 by e-mail

THE Confederation of Regional Business Chambers says, while it’s commendable the Central Bank is making it easier for financial institutions to reintroduce loan deferrals and interest rate reductions for customers, it’s unclear how the interest rate reduction will be applied.

The Central Bank is making it easier for financial institutions to reintroduce loan deferrals and interest rate reductions for customers who are facing hardships as a result new measures introduced as a result of the spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths.

RUM and bitters producer, Angostura Holdings Ltd, yesterday reported a 45.5 per cent increase in its after-tax profit, for the first quarter of its 2021 financial year.

Angostura profit for the period ending March 31, 2021, was $19.06 million, which was 45.5 per cent higher than the $13.09 million the Laventille-based manufacturer reported for the same period in 2020.

MAJORITY State-owned National Flour Mills (NFM) yesterday reported a 62.4 per cent decline in its after-tax profits for the first quarter of its 2021 financial.

NFM’s after-tax profit for the three months ended March 31, 2021 totalled $2.63 million, down from $7.01 million the grain miller reported in 2021.

WEST INDIAN Tobacco recorded after-tax profit of $91.4 million for the first three months of its 2021 financial year, which was 12.8 per cent lower than for the same period in 2020.