Former Citgo 6 prisoner raises awareness for those held captive in Hamas-Israeli war during holidays

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Friday, November 24, 2023
'Citgo 6' exec reflects on bittersweet situation on arrest anniversary
Six years ago, six Citgo executives from Houston were arrested, never knowing they would end up captive for five years in Venezuela. Today, one of the execs, freed for a year now, reflects on the anniversary.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- This week marked six years since the Citgo 6 were taken captive by authorities in Venezuela. After spending five years in unthinkable conditions, the six Houston oil executives were finally released in October of last year in a prisoner swap

RELATED: 5 members of Citgo 6 return to Texas after Venezuela prisoner swap

One of them sat down with ABC13 on Thursday and reflected on that harrowing ordeal, all while the Hamas and Israel hostage situation is top of mind.

Jose Pereira said Thanksgiving brought mixed feelings for him because he knows how difficult the holiday season can be for the people who are being held hostage in the Middle East, as well as their loved ones.

On one hand, he is extremely grateful to be home and celebrating with his family, something he will never take for granted again. But on the other hand, he can't help but think about the families who are still hurting and wondering if they'll ever see their loved ones again.

"I learned that the suffering families go through can even sometimes go beyond your suffering. When you're in that situation, of course, you're suffering. But your family doesn't know how you're doing or if you're alive. It drains them physically, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually," Pereira said.

"When someone is in a hostage situation, there is no holiday for their family. They're literally in an emotional jail," he said.

The nightmare began for Pereira in November 2017 when he traveled to Venezuela for a business trip as the interim CEO of Citgo with five other executives. Authorities charged and imprisoned them for embezzlement, which were allegations they always denied.

In 2022, he explained what the conditions were like in a dark cell that he was thrown in with another member of the Citgo 6 to ABC13's Brooke Taylor.

"They called it 'the submarine' because it looks like some kind of vessel without any room, no window, no nothing. They kept us there for almost one year, starving. No running water, no fresh air, nothing. We were totally isolated," he said just one day after his return to the U.S.

RELATED: A member of 'Citgo 6' shares survival story after spending years in foreign prison

Pereira shared that a year later, the wound is still fresh. He is still in his healing process and working with a therapist to recover from the traumatic ordeal. In the meantime, he's developed a newfound appreciation for the little things, like fresh air or a hot shower.

"Nobody's prepared for this, and when it happens, you're in denial about what's going on. Then it begins to evolve. So when you come back, it's like you came back in a time machine. It's like you opened the door and came into another world, a post-pandemic world that has changed a lot. I'm still readapting to that world," he said.

As families gather and celebrate together this Thanksgiving, he hopes to raise awareness about dozens of other U.S. hostages who are still being wrongfully detained around the world and provide support to their families. He said this is an issue that touches people from all types of backgrounds.

"People have to think that this is something serious. They have to pay for the people going through this. People have to be more aware," Pereira said.

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