Six executives from Houston-based Citgo have reportedly spent 15 months jailed in Venezuela on what their families say are trumped-up corruption charges. As the Trump administration tries to unseat Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the fate of the executives—five of them US citizens—lies in the balance, per the AP. As does that of the US company they worked for, Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-run oil giant PDVSA, and a prize in the power struggle between Maduro and a rival the US recognizes as Venezuela's rightful leader, Juan Guaido. The families of the "Citgo 6" complain the men are being held in inhumane conditions, sharing overcrowded cells built for 22 people with nearly four times that number of inmates. They say the crowded conditions require the men to sometimes sleep on the floor and go without access to fresh air for weeks.
The families' saga began the weekend before Thanksgiving 2017, when they got a call from the head of PDVSA, asking that they travel to Caracas for a last-minute meeting. The group, including acting President Jose Angel Pereira, flew out on a corporate jet. A group of armed and masked security agents rushed into a conference room and arrested all six. Hours later, Maduro's AG appeared on state TV announcing charges of embezzlement. Then Maduro himself accused them of "treason," though they haven't been charged with that crime. A preliminary hearing has been postponed 12 times for little apparent reason, leaving the families to question whether their loved ones are being held as pawns in a high-stakes political negotiation. The next hearing date is Wednesday. (Read more Venezuela stories.)