Gustavo Cardenas was one of the Americans who were released from Venezuelan prison. His wife claims that seeing him before her in Katy, Texas on Wednesday morning did not make it seem real.
"We are so happy. Maria Elena Cardenas stated that we didn't sleep at night. "I can't believe he's here," he said.
Maria and her children read news reports Tuesday night that her husband was freed. However, they did not get official confirmation from the U.S. government until late in the night. Cardenas was returning home on a plane. He returned home on Wednesday morning.
She stated that Cardenas had been checked by two doctors upon his release and seemed to be in good health. However, he is extremely thin having spent more than four years in Caracas' Helicoide prison.
Maria stated that Sergio, their 21-year old special needs son, was thrilled to see his father. He skipped school Wednesday.
Cardenas was the vice president of shareholder relationships at Citgo. He was among six executives detained during a business trip in November 2017. He was charged with corruption.
Jorge Fernandez (another American) was also released Tuesday. Fernandez was accused of terrorist acts after he allegedly used a drone to arrest him in February 2021. Venezuela's government released the Americans in an attempt to improve relations with Biden.
After a secret visit by top Biden administration officials to Venezuela over the weekend, the release was made. They discussed the possibility of lifting sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports and the release of American prisoners. As it attempts to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin following his invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration was considering banning Russian oil imports. Venezuela is Russia's most powerful ally in the region.
"These men were fathers who lost precious times with their children and all their loved ones, and their families have suffered every single day of their absence," read a statement by President Joe Biden.
Citgo executives were convicted of corruption in November 2017. The charges stemmed from an unfinished deal to repay the company's debt. Citgo, which is based in Houston and owned by Petroleos de Venezuela (or PDVSA), is the U.S. subsidiary.
Five other Citgo executives are still in prison: Jorge Toledo (Tomeu Vadell), Jose Luis Zambrano Alirio Zambrano, Jose Pereira and Jose Pereira. They were summoned to Venezuela for a last-minute meeting around Thanksgiving 2017. They were taken into custody by armed and disguised security personnel once they reached the conference room at Caracas' PDVSA headquarters.
Three other Americans are still being held in Venezuela, apart from the five Citgo executives. According to Venezuelan prosecutors, two of them were former Special Forces soldiers Luke Denman, and Airan Berry. They were sentenced for their role in a failed attack on a beach aimed at overthrowing President Nicolas Maduro. Matthew Heath, a retired Marine who was allegedly carrying an arsenal in his vehicle, was also arrested and charged in September 2020 with terroristic acts.