The youngest of Gustavo Cardenas’ three children has a rare genetic disorder, is confined to a wheelchair and was not expected to live as long as he has, according to his mother. Sergio Cardenas is stable and doing well for the time being, but he would feel much better if his father could come home to Katy.
The local family has been separated for the better part of three years, with Gustavo having been detained by the Venezuelan government since November 2017. That’s when he and five other Citgo executives were called to a meeting in Caracas, home of Citgo’s state-run parent company, and then arrested by the regime of Nicolas Maduro.
Cardenas and the other men, five of whom are dual citizens with family in the Houston area, were accused of treason but have yet to stand trial in Venezuela. And they have missed many milestones back in the U.S., such as the birth of grandchildren and, in Cardenas’ case, his son’s unlikely transition into adulthood.
Maria Elena Cardenas, Gustavo’s wife and Sergio’s mother, said her son was in hospice care and not expected to live much longer when he last saw his father. Sergio, whose disorder is called mucolipidosis, turned 20 years old last week.
“It is hard,” Maria Elena Cardenas said. “But the only thing we can do is keep our prayers and our faith that this nightmare will end soon.”
The Cardenas family as well as the others got some renewed hope last Thursday, July 30. That’s when Gustavo and one of the other detained men, Sugar Land resident Jorge Toledo, were released from El Helicoide prison and placed under house arrest.
The transfer followed a recent visit to Venezuela by Bill Richardson, the U.S. diplomat and former New Mexico governor who met with Maduro on behalf of the “Citgo 6” families. Maria Elena Cardenas, along with relatives of the some of the other men, said they are taking it as a sign that Maduro could be warming up to the idea of releasing their loves ones.
Two of the other detained men, Jose Pereira and Jose Luis Zambrano, also are Katy residents. The other former Citgo executives in Venezuelan custody are Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Zambrano.
U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, who represents some of the men and has called for their release, said he is “thrilled” about the recent progress but said he won’t be satisfied until all six of them are back home with their families.
“Maybe there’s a crack in that cold, cold heart to let the people go,” Olson said of Maduro. “He knows they did nothing illegal, nothing wrong. It’s all the politics of power.”
Neither Olson nor Maria Elena Cardenas nor Carlos Anez, the stepson of Toledo, said they know why only two of the six men were granted house arrest. Anez and Cardenas both said they see it as a step in the right direction, but they remain cautiously optimistic.
All six men were moved from prison to house arrest last December, but they were rounded up and returned to prison in February after U.S. President Donald Trump met in Washington with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
“I try not to get my hopes up, because of what happened last time,” Anez said. “But I’m thankful that Venezuelan authorities decided to do this and, of course, very thankful for the effort that Bill Richardson has put into making this happen. Hopefully it’s one step in the right direction.”
That sentiment was echoed by Gabriela Zambrano Hill, the daughter of Alirio Zambrano and niece of Jose Luis Zambrano. Even though her relatives remain in a Caracas prison, where COVID-19 remains a threat, there is hope that they also will be put under house arrest or, better yet, released from custody.
Hill said her father was allowed a brief phone call the same night Gustavo Cardenas and Toledo were transferred from prison to house arrest. Hill said she could hear the optimism in her father’s voice, which she took as an encouraging sign.
“It’s been so difficult for them,” she said. “They’re trying to keep themselves safe during the pandemic, and there’s been times when trying to keep themselves isolated is incredibly hard for them mentally and spiritually. Having something that looks like a step forward has filled my dad with energy and hope. It makes us at home really hopeful that we’ll see them again soon.”
A long-awaited reunion is the “real thing,” according to Maria Elena Cardenas. So she hopes her husband will go from house arrest to freed, which would mean he can leave Venezuela and return to Katy to be with his wife and terminally ill son.
The Cardenas family has two older children who live in other cities.
“We are really grateful,” she said. “For the first time, we feel like something is happening. And maybe we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”