Pompeo urges Venezuela to release imprisoned oil executives as coronavirus spreads
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Thursday expressing concern for the six executives for Citgo, a Houston-based oil refinery that is the U.S. subsidiary for Venezuala’s state-owned oil company.
Five of the detained employees have dual U.S. citizenship, and one is a permanent U.S. resident. The United States considers the executives, who were arrested in Caracas in October 2017, to be wrongfully accused.
Pompeo’s statement noted they “all have weakened immune systems due to cumulative health problems and face a grave health risk if they become infected” with the Covid-19 virus.
The economy in the once-prosperous nation has continued to spiral rapidly downward, causing the government led by President Nicolás Maduro to impose a nationwide quarantine this week as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases doubled to 33. Maduro said Venezuela is expecting shipments of medicine from Cuba and protective gear and test kits from China.
The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday rejected Venezuela’s request for a $5 billion loan to help tackle the disease, blaming a dispute over Maduro’s leadership.
“Unfortunately, the Fund is not in a position to consider this request” because there is “no clarity” on international recognition of the country’s government, the IMF said in a statement.
The United States is among more than 50 countries that do not recognize Maduro as the legitimate president after 2018 elections were deemed riddled with defects. Instead, they back Juan Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly, as the interim head of state until a free and fair election can be held.
Carlos Vecchio, the Guaidó-appointed Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, said that “the only obstacle to receiving support from the International Monetary Fund is Maduro himself.”
The United States has imposed a series of sanctions on Venezuela to force Maduro to leave office, exacerbating an economic crisis that has worsened with a collapse in oil prices. Neighboring Colombia, where more than 1.3 million Venezuelans have settled to flee the devastation at home, has closed its border due to the pandemic.
“Inside of Venezuela, the situation is dire,” said Marianne Menjivar, the International Rescue Committee’s director for Colombia and Venezuela, said in a statement Wednesday.
Colombia’s health system does not have enough beds, oxygen and other equipment to treat people stricken by the virus, Menjivar said.