Amid a global coronavirus scare, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo has called on the dictatorial Venezuela regime, which has been accused of crimes against humanity, to release five American citizens who were wrongfully detained on charges of corruption over two years ago and are in the country’s infamous Helicoide prison.
“With the Maduro regime now acknowledging that COVID-19 cases are appearing in Venezuela, we are extremely concerned about the risk for the five U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident from Citgo who are currently languishing in the notorious Helicoide prison in Caracas,” Pompeo said in a statement.
These Americans in detention have “weakened immune systems due to cumulative health problems and face a grave health risk if they become infected.”
There are 70 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Venezuela, according to John Hopkins University. Worldwide, there are over 300,000 confirmed cases in 184 countries, areas or territories, with a death toll of over 13,000.
The courts have canceled 18 hearings and the six accused, including the U.S. resident, have spent more than two years in jail “without an ounce of evidence being brought against them,” Pompeo said, urging that “it is time to release them on humanitarian grounds.”
The six, including the top executive of Citgo, a Texas-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s PDVSA, a state-owned natural gas and oil company, were arrested in November 2017, three months after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan regime, under the pretense of an anti-corruption probe, according to The Epoch Times.
After the arrest, President Nicolás Maduro said that former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez’s cousin was taking over as the new president of Citgo, according to the Times.
The sanctions prohibited dealings with the Venezuelan government or its state oil company to prevent the strengthening of the dictatorship of President Maduro.
In May 2018, the Trump administration secured the release of Joshua Holt, a former Mormon missionary from Utah who had been imprisoned in Venezuela since June 2016 on false charges of espionage.
Holt was released after negotiations with Washington to avoid stricter U.S. sanctions.
“We hope that this gesture is read by those factions that promote aggression against Venezuela,” Venezuela Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez was quoted as saying at the time.
Last week, Trump secured the release of Lebanese-American Amer Fakhoury from prison in Lebanon.
“Today we are bringing home another American citizen, big thing, very big,” Trump said at the beginning of a coronavirus task force briefing, according to FOX 40.
Fakhoury was accused of kidnapping, torture and murder of prisoners during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.